Though a relatively small county in south Texas, Maverick County’s government has been running a scam against its taxpayers for years, and now citizens are fighting back.
Maverick County taxpayer Ethelvina Felan recently asked a district court to intervene in the county’s budgeting process because the county may be facing a rollback election and subsequent refund to taxpayers, but has refused to set aside those funds in their 2018 budget reserves.
Felan originally sued the county because, along with a group of concerned citizens, she noticed inaccuracies in the county’s calculation for its 2016 tax rate. The commissioners court ignored their concerns, approved the tax rate, and then invalidated a rollback election petition that Felan and nearly 3,000 citizens signed.
The group says that the 2016 rate was incorrect because it didn’t consider $3 million collected in sales tax.
Felan won a judgment finding that she was correct; the county did miscalculate the 2016 tax rates and must hold a rollback election. The county appealed, so the election is currently delayed, but the county is moving forward showing little concern.
“In the meantime, while county officials still sit on top of the taxpayers’ money, they have rushed through adoption of the current year’s tax rate and 2018 budget with little concern for fiscal responsibility or transparency. In fact, County officials have refused to provide information that is required by statute to be available to the public,” reads a press release from the Najvar Law Firm which is representing Felan.
The problem with moving forward with the budget is that it does not account for the amount the county would owe taxpayers if the rollback election is successful.
Maverick County Judge David Saucedo has acknowledged that if taxpayers prevail, the county could be required to refund between $1.6 and $1.8 million. Not only did the county’s 2018 budget not account for this, but it was flat out rejected when the County Auditor recommended that commissioners set the funds aside in reserves.
According to the Najvar firm, the county’s current budget doesn’t even truly fund its ongoing expenditures, let alone a potential taxpayer refund.
In the 2018 budget, the county judge used a property tax collection rate of 100 percent, meaning the budget is based on every taxpayer paying every cent of their 2017 tax bill. Historically, Maverick County has used a 92- to 95-percent projected collection rate, but the firm says that even using a 95-percent collection rate sets the county up for a $400,000 deficit in 2018.
“County officials have attempted at every turn to hide these details from the public as they rushed to adopt the budget and current year’s tax rate,” continued the press release.
Even though documents show the budget was completed well in advance, the county only made the proposed budget and documents available four days before the only public hearing.
Jerad Najvar, principal attorney for the Najvar Law Firm, said, “The court has the authority to intervene to protect the taxpayers’ money until the rollback election happens.” He continued, “There is a pattern of irresponsibility and abuse here that I believe clearly demands action in the name of all Maverick County taxpayers.”
Maverick County taxpayers should be following closely and pushing for their right to a rollback election, and taxpayers across Texas should take notice as well. The only way to hold local government accountable is to take action like Felan did.