Volt PAC weighs in on the November 2015 election
Guest Column by Donna Pinon
Go to the polls on Nov. 3 to make some important decisions for Huntsville and Walker County taxpayers — a new Huntsville mayor, two spots on the Walker County Hospital District Board, and two proposals that would add more unnecessary layers of government with the risk of raising your taxes: a sales tax-funded economic development board for Huntsville and an Emergency Services District that includes the entire northwest quadrant of Walker County.
The Huntsville Mayor’s race:
Voters for Lower Taxes (VoLT) is not endorsing a candidate for mayor. Three of the four are taxpayer-friendly.
Councilman Andy Brauninger has a record of advocating for lower taxes and voting against bloated budgets and increased taxes and spending. Wayne Barrett, who has also served on City Council and not raised taxes, and John Smither have pledged to keep property taxes as low as possible while providing quality city services. Their opponent, Keith Olson, current mayor pro tem and chairman of the finance committee, has a record of voting to raise taxes by record rates, thus amassing an $8 million budget surplus in one of the state’s poorest counties. This is cash well over what the city needs to operate and maintain its reserves. So what’s that money for?
Mr. Olson is also in favor of the only local proposition on the city’s ballot this year, which asks you to approve a Type B economic development corporation, also called 4B. The other three candidates are against this EDC, and so is VoLT.
The Type B Economic Development Corporation:
First, beware the ballot’s wording. It reads like Type B would increase sales tax revenues, thereby lowering property taxes. No! Exactly the opposite. It actually lowers the amount of sales taxes that go into the General Fund, requiring either a cut in city services or a property tax hike.
Type B would set up an unnecessary bureaucracy to allocate and spend tax dollars for economic development as well as other “quality of life” projects, such as new streets, parks and recreation facilities, and infrastructure. City Council can already do this with tax dollars.
Instead, Type B would earmark about $625,000 accrued through sales tax, money now intended to help offset the cost of providing city services with property taxes. This means the city would have to cut $625,000 from the city’s budget OR raise property taxes to make up the difference.
City Manager Matt Benoit told Council he could cut $625,000 from the budget to accommodate Type B without having to raise taxes. That hasn’t happened yet.
This corporation also could get city taxpayers into millions of dollars of debt that voters would not get to pre-approve, as they do now. Taxpayers would be on the hook for this debt, even if the corporation failed.
Type B would put tax dollars in the hands of this 4B corporation’s board whose members are appointed by Council, not elected by voters. Council can appoint itself or City staff to 4 of 7 members of this board and hire the city’s mayor as the paid executive director. There goes taxpayer oversight.
At a recent candidate forum, Mr. Barrett said he opposed Type B or 4B partly because the city had no plan for how to use the sales tax it would commandeer from General Funds. Mr. Olson said he “knew the plan” and asked voters to trust him and other elected officials to execute it. Why wouldn’t you share the plan with the people who are going to pay for it?
Those who support 4B will tell you that its opponents want to keep Walker County from growing and prevent new business from coming in. Not true! We just want a responsible use of tax dollars, and 4B isn’t that.
Emergency Services District #3
Anyone owning property in the northwest part of the county (see map) faces a proposition that would also add another unnecessary layer of county bureaucracy to do something county government can already do. VoLT urges you to vote against the Emergency Services District on the ballot. This would create another taxing entity to fund fire protection services in this area and an appointed governing board that would control taxes without oversight from elected officials. We agree Crabb’s Prairie’s volunteer firefighters need equipment that taxpayers must provide, but that’s the job of elected county commissioners. Voters need to hold commissioners accountable for neglecting the county’s first responders. We don’t need yet another tax to be spent by an unelected board.
Walker County Hospital District:
Transparency has been an issue for decades with the tax-supported Hospital District. Voters can change that with the election of local Realtor Judy Emmett to a spot on that board to replace Robert Hardy or Zach Slott. This election is different than most in that there are three candidates running for only two seats. It’s the political version of “musical chairs” with the top two vote-getters winning seats on the Board with the third-place candidate left out.
You can vote early from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Walker County Annex on Sam Houston Avenue next week. Polls open at 7 a.m. on November 3. The outcome of this election will have a direct effect on your taxes. Don’t leave the decision to others. Vote!