Down in Galveston County, two cities have made the news lately with their budget issues. League City has discovered a surplus of about $3 million, and they’re considering giving it back to taxpayers. Meanwhile, in nearby La Marque, the city faces a $1 million deficit (approximately 1/10 of its annual budget) after mistakes were made with the annual revenue estimate. What a difference twelve miles makes, huh?
League City taxpayers should be calling their city council now to make sure the surplus funds are used to save the city money or to cut taxes. The council postponed their decision to give the city manager time to present other options, and a decision could come as early as August 14. Both options are good uses for the money – cutting back on debt is always a positive, especially if the city can be kept from going back to taxpayers for more just because they can. The fiscal stewardship in League City is notable in a time when so many local governments in the country have begun declaring bankruptcy or raising taxes to cover structural deficits.
Meanwhile, farther south, La Marque city officials have gotten into a finger-pointing match over a significant deficit was revealed in the presentation of the initial 2012-2013 budget. Included in the budget is a property tax increase of 8.5 cents, up to 60 cents per $100 of valuation. Not a lot, maybe, but La Marque City Councilman James Osteen told the Galveston Daily News that it wouldn’t be enough to cover the hole, and there would still be a deficit of as much as $500,000. All of this stems from a budget deficit in the previous budget – which the council wasn’t aware of until July 9 of this year. Now it comes to light that the city’s finances have been on a “downward path” for four years, according to one city councilwoman. It’s difficult to believe such a problem could have gone completely unnoticed for so long – and that’s a question voters will need to ask when election season rolls around again in La Marque.
The people of these two comparatively small south Texas towns need to pay close attention in the coming weeks to their governments. While one appears to have been frugal, it won’t hurt for taxpayers to make sure that continues. In the other, vigilance is overdue – and the infighting may threaten to overshadow the real issue at stake, which is how a town of just over 14,000 finds itself with a deficit equal to 1/10th of the annual budget. It’s not just the big cities that run amok.