I received an email from the San Angelo Tea Party recently that you can see on this weblink. They have finally discovered that San Angelo has the second highest property tax in Texas. Welcome to the party. We've been following property and other tax rates for years. San Angelo has been the second highest property tax city in Texas for aboutt two decades and property tax doesn't even come close to showing the total tax load. We have the 4b 1/2 cent sales tax that was added back in the late nineties. There are also stealth taxes like the storm water fee which is really property tax in disguise. It's to pay for unfunded federal storm water mandates and it collects about the equivalent of 6 cents in property tax every year. Add in various other taxes and fees, etc. and San Angelo citizens pay a lot in taxes.
It seems that this video from Public Information got some peoples attention. I think that's great. Of course, there's nothing new in that video. During the last several budget sessions, this same information has been presented during one of the budget sessions or rate hearings by the city manager and staff. This high tax rate has been an issue in several local elections, especially those around sales tax and school bonds. Before our current boom, it was frequently brought up as one of the factors hurting job growth and economic development. No surprises here. The only things different this year than last is that the Council didn't lower the property tax at all, instead choosing to fix roads, and we have a video that only half way explains the problem.
The thing to remember about our tax rate is that it is driven by spending. San Angelo, like every other city in Texas and unlike the Feds, must have a balanced budget. There are several core functions, like street and water main maintenance, that need to be done and it costs about the same to fix a mile of road in San Angelo as it does in Midland, Odessa, or Wichita Falls. There are also several other areas the city spends money on that are not quite as essential, and several that many would consider luxuries. Most years the budget is set by looking at how much was spent the last year or two, adjusting for things like fuel increases and some pay raises while keeping the tax rate within a range where it doesn't have to go before the voters.
For the last 10 years, the council has managed to drop property tax rate. That's a good thing. There have been cuts in some programs, and some services such as facility rentals have raised rates to help pay their own way. Still, there is more that needs to be done.
Up until we started the Capital Improvement Plan and put that in the City Charter 7 years ago, planning for capital projects and maintenance was an after thought. That would probably have never happened if not for a water main break that left much of the south part of town without water right before Christmas. Finally figured out that water pipes don't last forever and they will get your attention whether you like it or not. We are still having pipes break but they are not as common and they don't have the devastating impact the Christmas break had. This council has finally gotten serious about addressing roads.
Before he left, city engineer Bailey presented a partial list of roads that needed major work. Think it started at just over $100 million was the best estimate on how much money it would take to fix the current problems. In prior years the city was only spending about $1.5 million per year on roads. Don't have to be a math genius to see that these projects wouldn't be finished before our grand kids reached retirement age when we could start all over again. Throw in the fact that major roads only last about 20 to 30 years without major maintenance and the problem gets even clearer. This year the increased revenue is going into road maintenance. It's even more critical because the oil boom is wearing out the roads faster than normal. While the increased revenue is there they need to catch up on the long neglected infrastructure maintenance. At some point, there will be an oil bust. When that happens, they will probably stop fixing the roads again.
Making the high tax load even worse is the pay scale in San Angelo. Last time I checked, individual income in San Angelo was about 17% lower than the average for Texas. The cost of living here is at least as high as our benchmark cities. We used to get a break on housing costs but that has pretty much vanished with the current oil boom. Jobs are plentiful but the pay still lags the rest of the state. Makes the weight of a $685 tax payment heavier on a San Angelo worker than one in Abilene.
I agree that San Angelo taxes are too high. Thing is, you can't just cut taxes. The city government has to fix spending. They can't tolerate little things like $100,000 unauthorized furniture expenditures. Have to clamp down on cost over runs. Cut back on programs that are non-essential. They must be open and honest about the complete cost of all projects from beginning to end. Must have public safety. Need to fix roads and water and sewer. Not too sure about some of the other expenses. There will be tough, unpopular choices. Stop with the candy store until the basics are taken care of. Get the spending right and the taxes will be easy to take care of. Take a look at the proposed budget. Almost $150 million. 40 pages. There are opportunities for savings in there. I do think we are certainly taxed enough already. We have to be careful while we cut spending enough.