If you’re an average Plano resident, your property value has increased by almost 50 percent in just the last five years. Your city property taxes increased by nearly as much: $483, to be precise. That’s real money, taken from real, hard-working men and women.
What could you do with $483? What did the City of Plano do with it?
The property tax portion of Plano’s Revenue Plan has increased a whopping 64.3 percent in the last five years. But that’s from all the growth, right? Wrong. Overwhelmingly, it’s because the same property is simply valued much higher. New construction, which has averaged only 2.5 percent growth per year over the last five years, accounts for only 10.75 percent of the total increase of the city’s aggregate property values.
Moreover, Plano’s population has increased by an even lesser amount — an average of about 1.5 percent per year.
Plano is the City of Excellence and should maintain the high-quality services for which we are known; but with such modest growth, why the 64.3-percent increase in property tax revenue?
The fact is, rising property values don’t necessitate an increase in city services or the city’s budget. If the County Appraisal Board says your home is worth twice as much as it was a decade ago, that’s great if you want to sell your home, but it’s an otherwise meaningless statistic — except for those who reap our taxes.
We’re told all that extra money is needed to “maintain” our high level of service and if we don’t raise taxes by an average of 7 percent per year, we’ll have to “cut” services — even though inflation, like population growth, has only averaged 1.5 percent per year.
Only in government is it considered a “cut” when you don’t get to raise people’s taxes as much as you really want to.
Let’s see where all that extra money has gone. On the surface, we have the following high-level budget categories with their respective five-year budget increases:
Public Safety — oft touted as the beneficiary of the tax increases — grew the least of any category other than Libraries. But Public Safety is our single largest expense category, accounting for 45.6 percent of the total Operating Budget. It grew by $34.7 million over five years, so that represents a greater investment than the $24.6 million increase in General Government. So let’s see just where in Public Safety the extra cash went.
Police salaries rose $11 million (32.5 percent) over five years. Fire salaries rose $8 million (30.8 percent). Everything else rose $15.6 million (26 percent). It’s a bit of a stretch that we need to average 7-percent increases to the budget every year when inflation is averaging 1.5 percent per year, but it doesn’t look too bad so far, right? At least a little more than half of the increases are going to pay salaries for our hardworking men and women in the police and fire departments.
That brings us to General Government. There’s an account called “Nondepartmental” totaling $71.4 million for 2019, which has increased by $20 million (39.2 percent) in five years. This one account represents a full 21 percent of Plano’s 2019 Operating Budget.
What’s so crucial in the “Nondepartmental” department that we have to keep increasing taxes? Why, it’s the $36.8 million “miscellaneous” account!
What is this account comprised of? Absolutely nothing. There is no further breakdown in any of the 2,865 line items in the city’s 2019 budget. Yet this account has grown by a staggering $15.7 million (74.3 percent) in five years and represents a full 10.8 percent of the entire Plano 2019 Operating Budget.
One out of every 10 dollars is simply unaccounted for. That’s $348 for every family in Plano. That’s real money that real families can use for real things.
Moreover, our city council has deemed “miscellaneous” so important to the city that it accounts for more than a quarter of the extra $55.9 million it has given itself over the last five years. Consider this the next time you hear someone claim that not raising your taxes would mean cutting crucial services, starting with police and fire.
I have an idea. Every year, let’s determine what the city needs to maintain our exemplary city services (zero-based budgeting) and budget for that. Let’s not arbitrarily increase our planned expenses by 7-8 percent every year regardless of growth or inflation, just to capitalize on the real estate boom, and let’s not carve out 10 percent of our budget for absolutely nothing.
We, as Plano citizens, have a right to know what we have been paying for, and a responsibility to hold our elected representatives accountable for these increases.
Author’s Note: The numbers in my analysis were derived from the Plano Open Budget Portal.
This is an outside commentary submitted and published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to [email protected].