Monday, September 19, 2011

A Tax Increase by Any Other Name

This week’s city of College Station City Council meeting has an interesting agenda. There will be a vote not to raise taxes and a different vote aimed at raising water rates. On the surface this is an amazingly transparent move on the part of City Council. So much so that I am surprised that they have put these two votes on the same agenda. I guess they figured that the smart folks of College Station were capable of recognizing an increase in water rates as a de facto tax increase so they might as well not try to hide it.

Is it sinister to vote not to raise tax rates on one agenda item and then vote to raise wastewater rates on the very next item? I don’t know, but like I say, at least it is very transparent… in a back door kind of way. But really there is a lot more to this than a less than direct method of raising taxes. For this tax (water rate) increase is going directly to subsidize a very small group of citizens at the expense of the rest of us. These subsidized citizens can hardly be categorized as the needy. We are having our taxes (water rates) increased because the last City Council failed to implement impact fees and took away our ability to do so for several years thus necessitating tax (water rate) increases.

Impact fees assess the full cost of infrastructure for development and pass that cost, or a portion of it, to the developer. When a new development goes in, the developer pays for the infrastructure at the development, but there are a lot more costs that are incurred because of the development. Many infrastructure costs such as water wells, towers and treatment plants are large and centralized. There may not be an immediate need to put in a new treatment plant because of any single development, but as more developments go in eventually there will be a need to expand. It is the job of impact fees to assess the cost of centralized infrastructure so that cost can be passed on to those who are responsible for it. Without impact fees those cost have to be passed on to everyone through increased taxes (water rates,) even though the rest of us have already paid the cost of expansion for where we live. Once a development has paid the impact fee, they should not have to pay for the further expansion of other developments.

City Council is going to raise your taxes (water rates) on Thursday in order to provide what amounts to welfare for wealthy developers. Developers will argue that without impact fees they would have to increase the cost of development. That is true, it does not explain why we should subsidize them. If I could get the city to foot part of the bill on remodeling projects, I could lower the cost of remodeling. Why do this for one set of businesses and not for the rest of us?

So why are we subsidizing developers? That is simple; follow the money. Developers contribute huge sums of money to some City Council candidates. Campaign finance reports for our City Council members are available on the city’s website.

The state tightly controls the ways that impact fees are assessed. The fact is that at a maximum assessment the full cost of development is still not collected. The City of College Station paid a consultant several thousand dollars to calculate what our maximum impact fees could be. This issue came before the Planning and Zoning commission while I served. The P&Z’s role was only to provide a recommendation to City Council. There are two parts to this. The first is to except the consultant’s assessment of the fees. This simply recognizes that the consultants did their job and provided a fair assessment of the fees. If you do not accept the work of the consultant, you have in affect thrown away the consulting fee. An assessment cannot be done a gain for a period of time and you cannot assess a fee before then. The next part is to assess the fees that the city will charge. That can be from zero dollars to the maximum amount calculated by the consultant. I moved to recommend assessing the maximum impact fee because for the life of me I cannot figure why developers need welfare and because there are several other benefits that can come from impact fees, some of which also help keep our taxes lower. Unfortunately, my motion died for the lack of a second. The next motion was to accept the consultant’s calculations but to recommend that the rate be set at zero. Keep in mid that on this body was a developer whose business was directly impacted by this decision but who did not recuse himself. This motion passed including the vote of the developer.

But City Council did not take this advice. Instead they voted not to accept the consultant’s recommendation, which, in effect, killed any possibility of impact fees for at least three years. What was the motivation for this? What would have it hurt to do as the developer on P&Z recommended and accept the findings and set the rate at zero? Were they protecting the interests of their constituents or that of their donors?

Impact fees can help keep your taxes low in more ways than simply having development pay its fair share. Impact fees can be set based on the distance that infrastructure has to be extended. This encourages development not to leap frog over undeveloped land. Without this sort of structure many businesses are encouraged to build further out where land is less expensive but where they can still get city services. To keep up with this, the city keeps moving the city limits further out. It cost more in infrastructure and services such as fire, police and ambulance to serve a larger, less dense area. We also more quickly spread into traditionally rural areas such as what recently happened with Wellborn. We can keep taxes lower if we use impact fees to encourage development to happen close in. Also impact fees can be waived or lowered in redevelopment zones where the city wants to encourage new investment and redevelopment.

Impact fees are a great tool to insure that taxpayers are not paying to subsidize bad development. They are also a tool to encourage well-planned, cost effective, infill development.

Read more!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Developer Welfare

Okay College Station, what do you love more, low taxes or developers? Last week in a five to two vote The P&Z commission decided to recommend to City Council that developers should win. This has to do with water and waste impact fees, which I will try to explain. But If that is too much information, just know that if Council goes along with P&Z, you will help subsidize new development. This is not because developers don’t make a good profit, or because development will stop if we do not subsidize it (though many developers will try to make this silly claim.) I encourage you to contact City Council and ask them not to make you to pay the developers bills.

Mayor, Nancy Berry: nberry@cstx.gov
Mayor Pro Tem, John Crompton: jcrompton@cstx.gov
City Council Place 2, Jess Fields: jfields@cstx.gov
City Council Place 3, Dennis Maloney: dmaloney@cstx.gov
City Council Place 4, Katy-Marie Lyles: klyles@cstx.gov
City Council Place 4, Jana McMillan: jmcmillan@cstx.gov
City Council Place 5, Dave Ruesink: druesink@cstx.gov

Impact fees are fees assessed to help pay for the infrastructure cost of new development. Without these fees, this cost will be passed on to all rate payers in College Station even though you have long sense paid for the infrastructure necessary for where you live.

In fact, even if these fees were assessed at the highest legal limit, you will still pay for part of this new infrastructure because state law does not allow us to collect the full cost of putting these facilities in place. There seems to be three main arguments that developers have for getting us to pay their bills.

The first argument that developers make is that the increased taxes that will be collected on these developments will more than pay for this added infrastructure burden. The developers seem to be taking more than full credit for this growth, as if their developments are what is bringing new folks to town. Economic development is created by a multitude of factors, not the least of which is a well run city with an equitable fee structure. Developers do not create a need, they fill it. One of the leading factors stimulating growth is quality of life. Yet the development community would have us divert funds from providing things like parks to helping pay for their developments. They claim that if we subsidize the costs incurred by their businesses that they in turn will provide cheap house driving the market. I don’t know about you but wealthy developers are not my idea of who should be getting welfare. But the recommendation going forward to Council from P&Z is that we provide this welfare for developers.

Developers complain that they have been burdened with too many expenses. All of these expenses such as parkland dedication and impact fees are the cost of doing business. For much of College Station’s history developers have gotten away without paying these costs. Rather than being grateful for this past gift, they now angrily claim entitlement.

Related to this claim is the fear that all development will move to Bryan. The number one thing driving home sales in College Station is our high performing school district. People are willing to pay more for a home in order to be in CSISD. I know families that own a second home in College Station, just so that their kids can go to school here. Another thing that makes College Station a desirable place to live is our parks system. But the developers would have us reduce the money that we put into the operation and management of our parks so that we can better subsidize their businesses.

P&Z validated the findings of the consultant that helped assess the maximum allowable water/waste water impact fees of over $3,000 per standard meter and then recommended that we assess those fees at $0.00. In other words, they in essence said, “Yep, that’s what it cost to put these developments in, but we are going to charge that cost to all of the citizens of College Station rather than the developers who are profiting form the new growth.” Go figure.

Developers have been very successful at getting us to help fund their businesses because they are vigilant lobbyists. But we have seen that the voice of just a few citizens can also be very affective. Please take the time to let your City Council know that you do not want them to make you pay to subsidize the profits of wealthy developers. It is far more effective to show up at the City Council meeting to look them in the eyes and be heard, but an email allows your voice to be heard too.

Mayor, Nancy Berry: nberry@cstx.gov
Mayor Pro Tem, John Crompton: jcrompton@cstx.gov
City Council Place 2, Jess Fields: jfields@cstx.gov
City Council Place 3, Dennis Maloney: dmaloney@cstx.gov
City Council Place 4, Katy-Marie Lyles: klyles@cstx.gov
City Council Place 4, Jana McMillan: jmcmillan@cstx.gov
City Council Place 5, Dave Ruesink: druesink@cstx.gov
Read more!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mayor Berry to defend her seat | Bryan/College Station, Texas - The Eagle

Mayor Berry to defend her seat | Bryan/College Station, Texas - The Eagle

I am confident that the majority of citizens in College Station recognize the need to stand with these council people against this assault on the validity of our electoral decisions and on the integrity of our city government. This vote will be a mandate on civility and community. These council people have stood with grace and provided a much need example of respect in the face of malice. Read more!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Here is the beginning of my post.


And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chutzpah

From Wikipedia:

Chutzpah (pronounced /ˈhʊtspə/) is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The word derives from the Hebrew word ḥuṣpâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning "insolence", "audacity", and "impertinence."
That defines Jana McMillan. Sadly, this is not good chutzpah. The great American tradition of questioning authority is a virtue only in the presence of humility, intelligence and civility.

But it is not Ms. McMillan with whom we should be concerned - it is ourselves. We elected her. The people of College Station have become somnolent and allowed candidates to be elected who do not share the values expressed when we are awake and engaged. Low voter turnout has allowed a small cynical crowd to seat City Council members who do not view most investments in quality of life as a valid function of the city.

To get a sense of our community values I encourage you to view the notes from the Citizens Congress called by Mayor White in 2006.

College Station is a wonderful community and it has the ability to be even better. Who we elect to City Council makes a big difference in our sense of place and quality of life. Read more!

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm a Bad, Bad Blogger

I have been rude. Though it was entirely unintentional.

This blog is so old that it had a years old and out of date email that it was sending post notifications to. I especially want to apologize to Jess Fields who took the time to post long and thoughtful comments. Jess is a young Council person on a very different ideological plane than I am. But he has the right idea in his ability to recognize the difference between ideological and personal differences. It is this distinction that allows dialogue and the potential for change to happen.

Change less often comes from a conversion of ideology than it does from an understanding of a different perspective.
Read more!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Really!?!

Okay College Station, you just elected Jana McMillan over John Nichols. Really!?! I know that many of my local friends find this disturbing and scary. The question that I have this morning is what are we (you) willing to do about it going forward. We currently have three council members who seek allow our city government to atrophy . Parks, bikeways, sidewalks, neighborhood integrity all at risk. In May three council seats will be decided. John Crompton and Dennis Maloney will not be running. If we do not do a better job of informing and mobilizing citizens who care about quality of life in our community it will only get worse. There is a great deal that can be done. Are you willing to help? What are your ideas? Read more!