Denton’s school board voted this week to raise property taxes for the 2016-17 school year – an increase that voters will have to approve in a September election.

At their June 13 board meeting, Denton Independent School District trustees unanimously approved a tax rate ordinance that keeps the district’s overall tax rate the same but raises more total tax revenue; that is, property owners will pay higher tax bills to the district – if voters approve the increase.

In what’s known as a “tax swap” the board voted to decrease the portion of its tax rate that collects money to pay off the district’s debt by two pennies, to 48 cents. Denton ISD currently owes $1.464 billion in bond debt, according to the Texas Bond Review Board.

At the same time, the tax rate for school “maintenance and operations” (M&O) – which includes teacher and staff salaries – was increased by two pennies, to $1.06.

With the swap, the district’s total tax rate of $1.54 per $100 valuation won’t change, allowing trustees to claim they aren’t asking for a tax increase. But with Denton’s property values projected to increase by $1.7 billion, the amount taxpayers shell out will increase significantly. The district calculates that the average homeowner’s property tax bill will go up by $347.

By not adjusting the district’s tax rate downward to offset Denton’s skyrocketing property values, Denton ISD trustees are raising tax burdens on residents – while keeping the tax rate the same.

On top of collecting more total dollars from taxpayers, swapping rates to collect a higher percentage of tax dollars for M&O means the district will net more money for operating expenses.

How much more? According to Denton ISD’s website,

“District officials have calculated that the swap would allow Denton ISD to capture more funds from the state and keep a larger share of taxes paid currently by local property owners – approximately $7.9 million combined – working to support local students and teachers in the district.”

Last year the district also increased its M&O taxes, effectively raising its rate by more than 8 percent.

The board’s proposed tax rate is barely below the $1.5401 “rollback rate” that if exceeded would automatically trigger an election for voter approval. But because they’re asking for an M&O rate above the state-set cap of $1.04, trustees are still required to hold a tax ratification election, or TRE, asking voters to approve the rate hike.

Trustees chose Tuesday, Sept. 9 as Election Day for the tax increase – rather than the uniform election date in November. Setting school district TREs on non-uniform dates usually guarantees low voter turnout that, combined with putting polling places primarily at schools, tends to favor passage of school tax increases.

Texas lawmakers failed to pass legislation this session that would have required local governments to hold all tax and bond elections on uniform dates, when voter turnout is higher.

Early voting in the Denton ISD TRE begins Aug. 23. Denton taxpayers concerned about skyrocketing tax burdens should mark their calendars and plan to vote.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.