The County Court’s Deliberations on The Navigation District’s Property Tax Rate Request

By Jack Wright

At the last (September 12) Commissioner’s Court meeting, the Court was asked to approve the Navigation District’s property tax rate without presenting a budget or other supporting documentation. Keith Barrett expressed to the Court that he did not have enough staff to provide the detailed reports the Court requested, and that Commissioner Rousseau had asked for in advance. 

 

Any off-the-shelf bookkeeping software for a business can perform quality accounting for an entity the size of the Navigation District with one part-time employee. That same part-time employee can produce any income statement and budget with accompanying analysis with one or two simple keystrokes. That is, of course if bookkeeping software is being used. If it is, then the District is just stonewalling. Furthermore, every other governmental entity in the County produces these reports for their elected officials and the public to see every month, without being asked to do so. Tommy Moore’s paraphrased comments were “this is ridiculous; you have no right to ask us what or why, just approve the damned thing.”

 

Commissioner Rousseau had asked for financial reports that she did not receive. They should have been provided in the ordinary course of business for the Court to do its job properly. And because she asked for them in advance and still did not receive them makes it worse. That’s another District M.O. Didn’t do it, didn’t have time, don’t have enough people – and most frequently, just ignore the request. The District had an obligation, which it didn’t take seriously. It never has. They made it the Court’s problem by waiting until the deadline and by default, made it the Tax Assessor-Collector’s problem. Therefore, their purpose-driven failure effects two major government entities.  

 

Commissioner Laubach asked Mr. Barrett if I had requested actual-to-budget comparisons in the FOIA request. He said that I did not. His statement is patently false and a misrepresentation to the Court. I covered my request to the District in Blog #1 and #2. I had Mr. Barrett sign my document request that I received everything I asked for. I asked several questions that would have produced 172 separate responses when considering parts and sub-parts. All of which should be on their website, but none of it is. I did not ask for anything that I would not have asked any other governmental entity under similar circumstances. The District provided approximately 15% of what was asked for.

 

Mr. Barrett said that a significant portion of the District’s Fund Balance is held as matching money for grants. If that were accurate, then the proper designation on the financials would be to list them as Designated Funds. No such designation exists in the District’s most recent audit, therefore his statement is false. The Navigation District is attempting to hold reserves for grants that it does yet have and may not get. If they have a reasonable expectation such as a notice letter of a particular grant, name it and reserve for it. But only in that instance. With the increase in District Fund Balance over the last 3 years, a case could easily be made that they do not need ad valorem property tax revenue at all.

 

Mr. Barrett made a few other remarks; among them, he said I misstated their fund balance. Actually, he is correct. I said they had nearly $10 million in cash and equivalents; they only have $9,863,881. 

 

(Editor’s Note: Contrary to what the County Tax Assessor-Collector stated at the meeting, the Court is not simply performing a “ministerial” act when it sets the Navigation District’s property tax rate. The Court is making a substantive decision on the merits. The burden is on the District to present all of the details surrounding the reasonableness of its requested property tax rate. How else could the Commissioners make an informed decision on the requested tax rate. Also contrary to a statement that the County Tax Assessor-Collector made at the meeting, it was not incumbent upon the  Commissioners to attend the District’s tax rate hearings to question or examine the reasonableness of the District’s requested tax rate. That burden rests with the District. Hopefully, the District will work with the Commissioners Court and the County Tax Assessor-Collector to better coordinate the Navigation District’s tax rate setting next year and thereafter.)