Fort Bend County commissioners are gearing up to ask voters to approve $218 million in the form of a mobility bond this November. This is the fast-growing county’s second mobility bond in four years and, if approved, will add to its more than $400 million of currently outstanding bond debt.

According to the state Comptroller, when Fort Bend is compared to counties of similar size, the only ones with more outstanding debt per person are Williamson, Denton, and Montgomery counties.

For such a rapid-growth county, there was little public involvement in the development of the bond. At the lone public hearing held, only three taxpayers spoke on the bond proposal. Fort Bend residents should be concerned, though, as they pay the highest taxes in the state of Texas.

The bond proposal consists of 63 total projects, 25 of which are to be completed with partners, be they cities in the county or the Texas Department of Transportation.

During the meeting, one citizen mentioned that in many instances, the project costs exceeded the proposed bond amounts for each project by 50 percent. The county said that school districts, cities, and funds left from a previous bond issuances are going to make up the shortfall. In fact, according to the county’s most recent annual financial report, the county, “plans to issue $50 million of the 2013 authorization in fiscal year 2018.”

The county claims it can absorb the debt of the bond without increasing the tax rate.

Let’s explore that.

The effective tax rate is the rate that a taxing entity can adopt to collect the same amount of revenue from the same base as the year prior. If the county were to forego the bond, would they be able to decrease their property tax rate to the effective tax rate, if not lower? If yes, then this bond is effectively a tax increase.

In a recent op-ed, Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright said, “the benchmark for property taxes is not last year’s tax rate; the benchmark is this year’s effective rate. A tax rate higher than the effective rate will result in an increase in taxes.”

With more residents moving into Fort Bend County – 30,000 a year according to the County Judge – they should easily be able to adopt the effective tax rate and generate new revenue from new taxpayers. With the passage of a bond coupled with increasing appraisals, Fort Bend County taxpayers can expect their tax bill to go up.

The commissioners will meet on Tuesday, August 1, to vote on calling the election.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.