The Halloween Special: a tax increase in your bag

It’s Halloween, and in a couple of days we have another election coming up. This time it’s about a property tax increase in gloriously unobstructed Amarillo, Texas. I didn’t want to write anything about this, happy living in my bit of obscurity and blissfully tangental to the machinations of our local government. But people ask me questions (I won’t name names, comrade, but you get the point).

So here goes.

“Can you tell me what we’re voting on?”— Anonymous Monkey

The city of Amarillo wants more money, so the city council has decided to increase your property taxes. Under state law the city council has to ask for your approval to do this.  So now you get to vote thumbs up or thumbs down.

On November 2, 2021, IF you turn out to vote (the turnout will be entirely too puny and embarrassing and pathetic, but that’s how it works here) you’ll see this on the ballot:

“Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $0.48404 per $100 valuation in the City of Amarillo for the current year, a rate that is $0.04407 higher per $100 valuation than the voter-approval tax rate of the City of Amarillo, for the purpose of parks, athletic fields, trails, playground equipment, and other parks facility and maintenance needs, 6 new police department personnel and the associated vehicles and equipment, additional police and fire equipment, street pothole repairs and street resurfacing, additional Amarillo Emergency Communications Center pay adjustments, and a 1% increase in compensation for police, fire, and City employees. Last year, the ad valorem tax rate in the City of Amarillo was $0.39681 per $100 valuation.

In other words, we need more stuff, a lot of stuff. And we need more money to pay for it. To get that stuff we want to raise your taxes.

Just keep in mind, compared to a bond issue that has specifics for where the money is going, this is a ad valorem or property tax increase. That means the money goes in the operating budget and allocated where the city council sees fit. The city could easily spend $1.00 on parks and the rest on streets under this ballot language.

“How much do they want to raise my taxes? I heard it’s 25%!”— Anonymous Llama

It’s not 25%. It’s not 20%. People are confused on the math.

I’ll try to simplify:

  • In 2020, your city property taxes were $0.39681 per $100 valuation. For simplicity, let’s just say $0.39681.
  • In 2016, you all voted yes to a bond to fix our awful roads. That final part of the bill kicks in in 2021. So your taxes, based on the 2016 bond election, will go up automatically to $0.41688.
  • Regular property taxes increase because of the increase in home valuation. That brings us to $0.44334.
  • Now the city is asking to push that up from $0.44334 to $0.48404. THAT is the increase you’re voting on.
“”— Anonymous Cricket

Well, of course you don’t! Democracy isn’t about trust. It’s about accountability and openness. The entire point of having regular meetings that are free and open is so you can keep the government in check and truthful. You should never be satisfied with an elected pinhead says “trust me.” Instead, we should trust the process of transparency, and if things are opaque we should demand better.

Blind faith and insipid loyalty are fertile grounds for the authoritarian, the totalitarian, and the tyrant.

All that said, the city has a website called amarillotaxrate.com that explains some of this tax increase business. Unfortunately, when I looked up the domain records behind the name amarillotaxrate I saw this:

Swimming Pool Budgeted Revenues: Holy Greg Efthimios Louganis! We're going from zero revenue to $551,000? If that's true, why did we build a baseball stadium that brings in $400k (and loses $400k) when we could have built more places for swimming.

Well, bummer. It’s no wonder people challenge the idea of how our local government spends money when this happens. You can’t have an official government website promoting the tax election at the same time hiding what’s behind it.

I have the same trouble when our expenditures and revenue for the ‘MPEV’ mysteriously net zero. Or how the red light camera budget actually loses money for the city (part of that is a transfer of $10,000 from the red light revenue into the general fund, which is a no-no because all that money is supposed to go directly to public safety programs and not trickling through the general ledger to subsidize, say, city hall toilet paper.  Or how swimming pool revenue projections go nuts (take a look at the graph).

If you want a more detailed understanding of the budget, please leave a comment - Ahhh, I just regretted writing that.

I suppose all I’m saying is when our elected officials say they need more money and people complain the city is inefficient, bloated, or sneaky, well, it’s hard to argue some of those points.

We do need better parks. We need better infrastructure, that’s for sure. We need to invest in our quality of life. But we also need to be accountable, each of us, to each other. But we should all really understand how the city spends our money and who we all want to be in the future. When we don’t invest in ourselves we stagnate.

Please do your duty and vote. Just vote on the facts.