Richard Greene

If you’re mad about local taxes and spending, now is the time to make your voice heard

It’s budget time for taxing entities across the region, and it’s an opportunity to have your say about how your money is being spent.

I am reminded of a telephone encounter I once had with an angry citizen, an indication of how some seem to know little more about local government than that their property taxes are too high.

The gentleman greeted me with a declaration that all politicians are corrupt and that his city taxes were out of control. He demanded I do something or face the consequences of his wrath.

I looked over his tax statement online and thought I could comfort him by explaining that he wasn’t paying any city property taxes as a result of his homestead and senior exemptions exceeding the taxable value of his home.

Apparently not in possession of his tax bill, he objected to my having access to his “private affairs.” I explained that everyone’s property tax is publicly available and offered to send it to him for his review.

With today’s robust websites and other electronic means, local taxing authorities are keeping people informed better than ever. Budget proposals with information and data that elected bodies are using in their public deliberations before setting tax rates and adopting spending plans are there for everyone.

That means there should be no excuses for taxpayers sitting on the sidelines when these decisions are being made and complaining later about the size of their tax bills.

Believe it or not, the motivations of your elected officials are to provide you with the public services and facilities you want and need to support your daily lives.

If you opt out of the opportunities to engage them but object to the size of your bill, it’s on you. Now is your opportunity to tell your elected representatives the things they are doing you would like to change or curtail.

In Arlington, for instance, between now and the end of September when the budget must be finalized, there are two separate public hearings and two additional town hall meetings for you to engage.

Let’s say you attend one or more of these meetings prepared to execute your role as an informed and engaged citizen. You might begin with the realization that, like the residents of most area cities, about 25 percent of your total property tax burden goes to the city.

Also, like some cities in the region, Arlington is proposing its fourth consecutive reduction in the tax rate used to calculate the amount you must pay. That means some will see a lower bill this year. Others, as a result of a higher valuation placed on your property by the separate Tarrant Appraisal District, may owe an increased amount.

Your review of the budget proposal now posted on the city’s website will find that almost 65 percent of general fund expenditures are allocated to the highest priority of keeping you safe and secure by providing the police and fire departments with what they need.

In total, more than 76 percent of the budget is required to compensate one of the leanest municipal workforces in the state.

Sales tax revenues are approaching $70 million. Studies tell us the majority of that amount, which helps keep your property tax bill in check, comes from non-residents. The city’s booming tourism industry and robust retail economy is responsible for that good news.

There is, of course, a lot more than these few highlights. Past participation by citizens has been almost nonexistent. Now is your chance to change that.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.
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