Across Texas, citizens are doing what they can to stay at home and limit their time in public in keeping with President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force’s recommendations of social distancing. Additionally, local government orders have shuttered thousands of businesses or forced them to adjust their business practices in order to limit the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.
But some of these same government entities are demanding their tax and bond elections go on as scheduled in spite of Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not only postpone the May runoff elections but to extend the authority of local governments to do the same.
One example is a southeast Texas school district: Barbers Hill ISD.
BHISD students aren’t allowed on campus until at least May 4, and individuals residing within the school district are ordered to stay in their residences except for essential activities through April 30. The local county clerk’s office is operating on reduced hours and by appointment only, and a curfew has been imposed.
But school board trustees are keeping the district’s nearly $300 million bond election scheduled for May 2 on the calendar, dismissing the option to delay the election to November.
“We need to have the election in May. We believe with absentee voting, we can get the vote out,” BHISD Superintendent Greg Poole told The Baytown Sun last week. “Our goal is to have a successful bond. And, our goal is to have more voters than the other elections, or at least as many. The risk is minimal.”
Meanwhile, the district’s pro-bond organization “Friends of Barbers Hill” has taken to their Facebook page to argue that the bond election in May is necessary “for the good and safety of our district.”
State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) disagrees.
“With Texans facing layoffs or pay cuts in recent weeks, all while being forced to stay at home, local governments should not be passing more debt while we tackle this outbreak,” Cain told Texas Scorecard. “I call on all taxing entities to do the right thing and follow Gov. Greg Abbott’s recommendation by moving their elections to November.”
But while BHISD is executing a cash grab, the Williamson County-based city of Liberty Hill is executing a power grab—keeping an election on the calendar that could extend the terms of the city council.
And they’re paying an extra $20,000 to do it.
According to The Independent, “[T]he City has estimated the cost of holding the May election outside the November General Election date to be about $20,000.”
A number of other cities, including Deer Park, Breckenridge, and Crowley, are keeping their sales tax reauthorization elections on their current schedule—but one that’s not is the City of Granite Shoals.
They decided to delay their election, posting the following on their website:
Due to the Covid-19 situation, the Granite Shoals City Council met on March 30, 2020 at 2 PM to postpone the May 2, 2020 General and Special Elections to Tuesday, November 3, 2020. The City of Granite Shoals is currently under a ‘Shelter In Place/Stay Safe’ order with the rest of Burnet County effective 3/26/2020. In order to practice the safe Social Distancing for the benefit of voters, election officials and polling place workers, Council adopted Ordinance. 787 to postpone the General Officers Election, as well as Ord. 788 to postpone the Special Sales Tax reauthorization election for the 1 cent Sales Tax dedicated to Street Maintenance. The Texas State Comptroller has granted the City of Granite Shoals an extension to postpone the Sales Tax Election without penalty.
Alternatively, of course, Comptroller Glenn Hegar could deny such extensions and local government could delay their elections until November, to give temporary relief to Texans who have seen their personal economic situations take a downward turn in the wake of the economic slowdown.
With hundreds and hundreds of taxing entities across the state, Texans are encouraged to inquire with their local governments to see whether their elections will be delayed until November, or if their local officials are trying to sneak taxes and debt through while people are confined to their homes.