Miller: Cutting costs vs. shifting costs
I very much appreciate the many services provided by Somervell County to all of its residents, both those who live in the City of Glen Rose and those who live outside the city. And, I commend the Somervell County Commissioners’ Court for taking steps to cut costs and be better stewards of our taxpayer dollars.
However, I have some serious concerns about where we, as a community, appear to be headed. Some of the ideas being bandied about aren’t so much about cutting costs, as they are about shifting them from Somervell County taxpayers to City of Glen Rose taxpayers.
Word on the street is that the some at the county would like to see the city begin paying for dispatch, fire department, EMS, law enforcement (by the sheriff’s department) and library services.
The Glen Rose City Council tried to engage the county on discussions about these and other urgent matters. I let them know that I had lined up a neutral, highly regarded member of the community to help with negotiations, but they refused to sit down at the table with the city until after the upcoming city election. Why?
This delay is a concern because we have some pressing real property issues concerning a water well and a failing water storage tank. We can’t move forward on these items without input from the county.
Also, our convention and visitors bureau director position is vacant. If we knew that the county were interested in combining its efforts at promoting tourism with ours, we would leave the position vacant. Otherwise, with the tourist season fast approaching, we need to fill the position right away. What should we do?
As far as shifting costs, that wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that the county’s $3.2 billion tax base dwarfs the city’s $289 million tax base. The county’s includes roughly $1.7 billion for the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, a whopping 53% of its total tax base.
The plant is included in the tax base of all the local taxing authorities except for the City of Glen Rose. In 2020, the County received about $8.5 million in property tax revenue from the plant.
Once adjustments for homestead exemptions are made, to raise the same amount of tax dollars that the county does, for every 1 cent the county levies the city has to levy 12.7 cents.
So, just for purposes of illustration, let’s say that the county was successful in shifting $366,000 in annual expenses for the various services listed above to the city. To pay for those services, the city would have to increase its 38 cents property tax rate by 50%, to 57%.
The county, on the other hand, would be able to reduce its 50 cents property tax rate by 3%, to 48.5 cents. Glen Rose taxpayers are also Somervell County taxpayers, so after adjusting for the reduction in the county rate, they would realize a net 46% increase in their city rate.
Potentially, this could have huge implications for Glen Rose taxpayers for years to come. Some might ask, “Why not pay for the county services with the city’s reserves?”
Reserves are good for one-time capital improvement projects, or short-term economic downturns. They aren’t particularly suitable for covering daily operating costs. Using them would just postpone the inevitable tax increases.
Would it be right to increase property tax rates for those of us living in the city by 46% just so those living outside the city could get a 3% decrease in their rates?
Why should those of us owning property in the city be double taxed? We already pay the exact same county property tax rate as do those living outside the city limits.
Why should we be billed twice, once as a county taxpayer and again as a city taxpayer, for county services that benefit all who live in Somervell County?
All of us who reside in Somervell County have to deal with having a nuclear power plant in our back yards, so shouldn’t we all reap the financial benefits as well?