Category Archives: Taxes & Spending

Round Rock Residents Should Say “No” to New Debt.

According to the April/May “Community Impact”, Round Rock residents may get an opportunity to say “No” to more city debt, “No” to wasteful city spending, and “No” to debt without representation.

The last time the city issued new debt was in 2002, about 10 years ago.  Ironically, the city is still paying on that debt.  Debt service currently constitutes about 10% of the 2012 city budget.   That means that, if the city had not issued all that debt, it would have had 10% more money to spend on essential city services today.

According to Fitch Ratings, “overall debt levels remain elevated” for the city of Round Rock.

The city says it needs this new debt because tax income from Dell Corp is lower.  This is a bad reason to take on new debt.  When normal people see a drop in their income, they normally look to cutting back their expenses.  The City of Round Rock, however, wants to take out new loans, making our city fathers seem very unlike normal people.

Also troubling is that it’s not the current residents who will vote in the bond election who will necessarily be paying back these loans.  The city council cites the cities growth in the last 10 years, nearly 40,000 new residents, as the reason it needs to max out the credit cards.   It is those new residents whose money is paying the debt taken on before they even moved here.  It will be residents new and old who will bear the burden of new debt in the future.

The city says it needs this money for parks and outdoor sports facilities.  If so, I’m sure users of those facilities would be excited to pay fees to enjoy such things.  Alas, we’ll never know.  The city proposes to take the money from all of us, if a bit over 5% of Round Rock residents give them the go ahead (turnout in city elections is around 10%).  Don’t be one of them.  Vote NO on any new bond elections for Round Rock.

End of Precinct Voting in Williamson County and more…

The September/October issue of Community Impact has, as usual, lots of depressing news for Libertarians.  Despite its conservative reputation, Williamson County and Round Rock governments continue business as usual with such initiatives as allowing sales tax dollars in Round Rock to be used for business welfare initiatives, the centralization of our voting institutions with the end of precinct voting, more high handed top-down water restrictions as a substitute for market forces, the raising of property taxes, and more economic planning in Georgetown’s downtown re-branding project.  And that’s just two months worth of work.

This November, Round Rock residence will vote on three initiatives.  The first is to raise the motel tax, a delightful way to tax out of town visitors who don’t get to vote on their increased bill.  The proceeds from this tax will go into the pockets of developers of an athletic facility.  The second initiative would remove the restrictions on what the city council can spend sales tax dollars on.  With their hands untied, the Round Rock city council can demonstrate that it’s knowledge of profitable business is superior to that of entrepreneurs and investors by subsidizing favored developers.  By subsidizing risk, such a measure would guarantee more long run business failures than would otherwise occur, since the cost of taking chances on iffy business propositions would be lower.  The last initiative is a series of mostly innocuous city charter changes, except for one, described only as “Clarify that referendum provisions do not apply to ordinances authorizing the issuance of bonds”.  Does this mean the city council can issue debt without passing it by the voters first?

Meanwhile the county commissioners are busy centralizing all voting institutions in the county by disbanding precinct voting in favor of dubious electronic voting machines in newly designated “voting centers”.  Such a move would make the reliability and transparency of the vote counting process, the location and availability of these “voting centers”, and the trustworthiness of our voting process becoming a matter of discretion.  Are particular neighborhoods prone to voting the wrong way on favored county or city initiatives?  No problem, just move the “voting center” a little further away, and the marginal number of votes cast by those residents will fall.

Rain, or the lack thereof, has also been keenly on the minds of Williamson County residents.  Reports are that the county is down some 17″ below its normal average rainfall YTD.   If this were a free market, increased scarcity would be met with rising prices, which encourages everyone involved to practice conservation for their own self and family interests.  Rising profits would also encourage other firms to find other sources of water and to more efficiently provide what is available, which both increase the supply to the community.  However, economics 101 is generally unknown to our local politicians, so we get heavy handed blanket restrictions on watering our lawns and washing our cars.  Higher prices would encourage residents to look to lower cost alternative means of achieving those goals.  A blanket restriction makes that impossible.   Most importantly, higher prices would impact business and agricultural water use behavior.  This is important since generally agriculture and business use of water far exceeds residential consumption.

Taking a “very fiscally conservative approach”, Round Rock City Manager Steve Norwood plans to raise property taxes so the city can maintain its preferred spending levels on those proposed business subsidies and sports facilities.  Very fiscally conservative, sir.

And finally, echoing similar projects in Austin and Round Rock, Georgetown is busily spending public moneys on its downtown rejuvenation project. Subsidizing museums and other frippery that no private investor would touch on their own because of how little value actual residents of the city place on such things.

Vote Libertarian folks.  It’s our only hope.

Water Bill Wars Unlikely for Round Rock – and other notes from Feb. 24

At the February 24th meeting of the Round Rock City Council, Mayor Alan McGraw was authorized to purchase 1,800 “smart” water meters from Master Meter, Inc. The city is currently spending $1.4 million per year to replace all analog meters with new computerized meters within 3 years. Eventually this system could be linked by antenna to provide real-time water usage data to the city. This would reduce or eliminate the current practice of sending employees to physically read the meters.

CNN has reported that major cities across the country including Atlanta and Cleveland have had serious problems with the new smart meters. Atlanta residents have received false water bills charging over $1,000 for a single month. Residents have had difficulty proving to the city that the billing system was the culprit, not a massive leak on their property.

I was concerned about this CNN report and I spoke with a Round Rock customer service representative about this troubling news from Atlanta. She was very knowledgeable about the matter. She informed me that no one with the new smart meters had reported any problems so far. She also said that an unusually high reading from a new meter would be checked immediately.

There are several important differences with the way Round Rock is managing its meters. First, Atlanta hired an outside contractor who did not properly install the meters. Apparently, there was a communication breakdown between the city and its contractor. Round Rock is performing all this work with city employees, and verifying correct installations as they are performed. Second, Round Rock is proceeding at a slower pace. Approximately 35 homes receive the new meters each day. Third, Round Rock is obviously a much smaller city than Atlanta or Cleveland, and hopefully any crazy water readings will be easier to resolve. It’s still a good idea for Round Rock residents to be aware of the new meters, and vigilant with their water bills. (Residents in North Texas have reported lots of problems with smart electric meters, so be cautious with that bill, too.)

There was a presentation to the city council on the city’s financial status. Revenue was on target with the city’s budget expectations. Dell still accounts for 18% of the city’s income.

Six and a half acres on East Main Street were re-zoned for the Round Rock Community Foundation. A street will also be closed to unite the parcels. They are planning to build a facility there to serve the local community.

The Mayor was authorized to spend $319,000 from Obama’s federal stimulus package to renovate the heating and cooling systems in various city buildings. The contract was awarded to Thermal Mechanical Contractors, Inc.

This article was written by Robert Butler and has been reposted with permission from http://robertdbutler.org

Round Rock ISD parents, employees offer input on budget cuts

Hundreds of parents, students and school employees packed the Round Rock High School cafeteria Feb. 15 to share ways to address the district’s anticipated budget shortfall for the 2011-12 school year, estimated as high as $73 million.

The event was the first in a series of public forums planned for RRISD to gather community input on the budget cutting process.

Texas lawmakers face an estimated $27 billion shortfall and $10 billion in cuts to school funding, forcing districts across the state to draft budget reduction strategies.

Cuts will be made across all departments and areas of the district, but efforts will be made to protect the classroom, Superintendent Jesús Chávez said.

“At the end of the day, I hope to pass a budget that will take less from the classroom and more from other areas,” Chávez said.

Chávez said RRISD will prepare a budget cutting about $60 million of its $345 million budget. The district plans to use $20 million of its rainy day fund each year for the next two years to lessen the impact of the budget cuts.

Those attending the forum were given a list of budget cut recommendations and asked to choose which areas they would cut, which areas they would save and add their own recommendations. Participants were then divided into small groups and asked to discuss their decisions.

The current list of recommendations are a collection of suggestions by RRISD staff, parents and community members on how to trim costs, such as reducing kindergarten to a half day and increasing class sizes.

The list also outlines a number of possible staff reductions in several areas of the district, including central administration, counselors, assistant principals, physical education teachers, librarians, instructional coaches and Talented and Gifted teachers.

Laurie Wagner, a PE teacher at Caraway Elementary School, said her top concern was saving PE teacher positions in the district.

“I’m concerned that they’ll get rid of PE teachers, and it will just be a bunch of aides in there,” said Wagner, who currently teaches 325 children with the help of one other teacher and several aides.

Susan Lobsenz and Angela Banker, both parents of students in Round Rock ISD, said they were most concerned about cuts made to fine arts programs and increasing class sizes.

“I’m afraid that by eliminating teacher jobs and increasing class sizes, it would reduce the quality of education every child receives,” Banker said.

Traci Reece, a mother of three children at Spicewood Elementary School, said while she was appreciative of the opportunity to offer input, she wondered if her comments would make a difference.

“It seems like they’ve made up their minds,” Reece said. “I’m curious to see if they give credence to our suggestions.”

Pflugerville ISD will host its community budget forum 7 p.m. March 2 at Kelly Lane Middle School.

View a list of suggested cuts for RRISD here.

Learn more about the budget cutting process in PISD here.

This article by Rebecca LaFlure  is reposted from Community Impact Newspapers