Wylie city council and mayor no longer trusted

With all the bad publicity surrounding the City of Wylie's high tax rate, there are a few activities of which are guaranteed to take place. Slowly creeping into the landscape are homes showing up on the real estate market. This recent uptick is largely a result of lender notices increasing monthly mortgage payments.

Already strapped from creeping payments over the past four years, homeowners who cannot handle the large increase anticipated this year will be forced to unload their houses as quickly as possible, even selling at reduced prices. This in turn will drive down property values as they scramble to get out from under a mortgage escrow payment they cannot handle.

This scenario is already taking place around town as new homes are showing up for sale in established neighborhoods. In my neighborhood alone, there are three new listings and the one next door to me was just reduced by $20K.

As taxes increase, families are being forced from their homes because they simply cannot afford the compounding mortgage payment increases year after year, a direct result of Wylie's bloated tax rate.

To let this situation foment, Wylie Mayor Eric Hogue comes across as unethical, unsympathetic and elitist as he sits at his isolated dais fortress, passing off tax increases as tax cuts four years running. It is insulting when he bemoans them like he is just one of the homeowners, yet does nothing to lower the burden.
Unwitting council members seem perplexed by the situation and are perpetuating this scam through these tiny incremental decreases.

The fact is, taxes have been dramatically escalating as the Collin County Central Appraisal District (CAD) continues to increase property valuations year after year. Though the market is partially responsible, the toxic combination of maxed out CAD appraisals and a mayor and city council who refuse to budge has made the past several years unbearable for taxpayers.

The council has banked on most people absorbing these increases year after year, which went relatively unnoticed as taxpayers wrongly believed they were altruistic in giving to Caesar. They failed to understand how city finances work and that Caesar was getting more than his fair share. It wasn't until the CAD started hitting taxpayers with 10% increases in property values that they took note. Last year it wasn't as painful though, because of the increase in homestead exemption, but this year there is no way to hide from the situation, which is why taxpayers are fuming.

Taxpayers are demanding the city adopt the effective tax rollback to lower our taxes this year, which Wylie has never done in modern times. Not only are taxpayers asking for a full rollback, but they want an additional few cents off as well. For the city, this is uncharted waters.

Still, it is important to note that though there have always been homes for sale in Wylie, the majority of homeowners are still here since the massive growth period between 2001 and 2010. These homeowners are still the type of people who can only afford their $130K-230K houses purchased during that time-frame. Between the lean years of 2010-2012, housing starts were very low and not much was happening in the market, but when developers came back to town starting in 2013, the market bounded. Though home values began steadily increasing, a magic wand wasn't waved to suddenly increase taxpayers' incomes. Property values have increased $60-80K since the boom but people's salaries haven't necessarily recovered from the sagging economy.

Another facet to this cruel and unusual tax punishment is that Wylie's council is starting to appear elitist. Their continued tax increase for four solid years means they are allowing, nay almost welcoming current homeowners to leave if they cannot afford the increase in taxes. In ignoring taxpayer pleas to dramatically lower the tax rate over the past four years, it says that our mayor and council would rather welcome seemingly new, wealthier homeowners who are unwittingly moving in and becoming disenfranchised. Hogue has escaped mass public scrutiny up until now, but that has likely come to an end with a whole new volunteer pool the new homes brought in, that may be willing to run against him if he doesn't get on the rollback train.

All a rollback means is that the city has to work within the same budget as the previous year. It doesn't mean taking funds from the rainy day fund either. It means towing the line on frivolous spending. With the revenue windfall they have been receiving from retail sales tax, that shouldn't be difficult for them to accomplish. They got us into this mess, they need to get us out.
2016 City of Wylie CAFR
It's not as if the city doesn't have any money, either. The fact is, the budget is already bloated with things like 200% 401K matching and unnecessary expense accounts. Does your employer match $2 for every $1 you put into your 401K, and provide you with a $1700 monthly car allowance? I didn't think so.

This powerful protest punch means that as communities are ignored, trust in government erodes. The council and mayor's new plight will be earning back lost trust. Not a great way to lead from behind.

As for mayor, he appears to be nothing more than a sadistic puppet master, toying with strings and hoping nobody notices. And to be completely honest, council isn't very well thought of either from comments on Nextdoor and Facebook.
"The appraised value is not the problem, it is the ridiculous high city and school tax we pay in Wylie. Wylie's city council and Mayor are out of control and yet we just re-elected the mayor without any opposition. Go figure."
Another sentiment:
"The WEDB and school Board are all crooks in my book. Why don't they just go door to door with a sack and collect cash. Would be faster."
The shameful truth is, people have lost respect for our city leaders:
"Just because businesses move in, doesn't mean my Disability Check is increasing. Guess the county/city want us old folks to move so they can grab hold of younger, higher paid, upwardly mobile citizens."
Just where did our mayor get his moxie and dancing monkeys from anyway? Oh yes, voters who rarely did due diligence in the past as they made selections based upon the good old boy system. Shamefully less than 4% routinely came out to vote through the years.

If there is any good news that can come out of this tax situation its that it seems likely the voting power is about to change hands from an apathetic group, to a population unafraid of combating the mayor and council.

Photo credit: visit grand forks

Citizens Appeal to Wylie City Council For Lower Tax Rate

Houston, we've got a problem. No, actually Wylie, Texas does.

Wylie's taxes are astronomical and have increased every year for the last five. This is serious business and even Dave Lieber of the Dallas Morning News took note at the city council meeting held tonight.

Dozens of citizens took time out of their busy schedule to protest, and a dozen stood up one after another to express their concern over an oppressive tax rate, the highest in all of North Texas.

Taxpayers spoke out against the practice of tossing a cent or two reduction at the rate each year, and refusing to adopt the effective tax rate thereby increasing taxes year after year. Speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting provided very compelling witness before a weary council.

Mayor Pro Tem Keith Stephens stood in for Mayor Eric Hogue, who was at a meeting in Las Vegas. Stephens tried to placate protesters by saying he is in the same boat as them. Though that excuse has worked in the past when the Mayor used it, Wylie's taxpayers are on to this scheme.

It is sad that Stephens provided rote "clarification" during public comment which included canned statements which have been repeated ad nauseum by the Mayor through the years. He stated that Wylie has lowered taxes for four years, to which Councilwoman Diane Culver clarified was actually five years, and he said that they would look into cutting the tax rate as long as it does not affect city services. These are two very misleading statements.

Stephens indicated the tax rate has been cut over the past several years, but every year the council has increased taxes. According to the Texas Comptroller's Office in Austin, when a city does not adopt the effective tax rate to offset increased appraisal values, they are increasing taxes. The City of Wylie definition provided by Stephens and Mayor Hogue in the past is in direct conflict with the Comptroller's office.

Additionally, city services will not be in jeopardy by adopting the effective tax rate. What adoption means is that the city agrees to run under the same budget as the previous year.

Since growth pays for grow, each new home and business create a budget windfall as new home builds over the past couple of years have been valued at considerably higher than the break-even. Additionally, the city's sales tax revenue continues to increase quarter after quarter, adding to the revenue windfall.

Sources report that the city's break-even point on homes is $240K. That means that homes with appraisals more than that are paying more than the cost of services provided for that property. Thanks to steadily increasing property values over the past five years, the city is no longer in a situation where homes are costing the city in services. Stephens' excuse simply doesn't pass muster.

I heard from handfuls of citizens outside the chamber that they intend to continue showing up at future meetings and budget work sessions, and will push their neighbors to show up as well. They all agreed that if the city doesn't lower our taxes considerably this go around, they will begin stepping up to run against council members until each one is picked off, except for Dr. Wallis who is new to the council this year.

Make no mistake, taxpayers are organized and they are serious.

Citizens Complain About Wylie Taxes

I don't know what is more disheartening, the fact that people are being priced out of their homes, or the fact that Wylie's taxing authorities are eerily silent on what is taking place within their city.

Here is an example of recent statements from taxpayers in Wylie.
"I filed & was rejected- I am a single mom & can't take off work to go to the protest, that's going to put me in more of a financial bind- i see a lot of comments here, but what can we do about it?"
"My payment went up almost 400 dollars a month due to taxes. Not to mention our insurance on our house got nearly a 700 dollar a year increase. We are moving because we are being priced out of our home."
In response.
"Yeah ours went up that .Much as well.. and based on this year's appraisal it's gonna go up another 300. Ridiculous."
And another.
"My appraisal went from $160K to $309K - How is that even possible!!!??"
Though this seems extreme, our situation is similar when we compare our very first assessment in 2001, when we built this house, with where it stands now.

Bravo for us, that our property values are doing well in this state, but I feel that is really more of a reflection on foreign investors gobbling up properties for several years.

Texas has been the international version of Fixer Upper, where homes have been bought, fixed up and resold or rented out. The other issue North Texas is combating is the desire to bring headquarters in from other states, juxtaposed with the lack of housing on the market. Everybody and their brother, and his in-laws and their second cousin, twice removed want to live here it seems.

Meanwhile, developers are still cramming and jamming homes on every postage stamp-sized parcel they can, and the city's development activities are finally catching up with them, prodding property values along.

For those of us who bought our homes ages ago, we're going to make a killing when we sell. But it doesn't mean we'll be able to find something on the other side of the sales equation, so we are digging in.

The State of the City may look rosy, but the scarcity of homes for sale means bidding wars ensue, leaving us with the situation we are in. Our goes-outta is quickly trumping our goes-inta.

Property values have been both artificially and organically lifted, and greedy taxing entities have been sitting fat and happy while people didn't miss the siphoning. The end result - it is only now when pocketbooks are being ritually emptied, that people are taking notice. This situation had to lead somewhere.

Though the taxes aren't set in stone yet, as people have until May 31st to protest their property assessment with the Collin County Central Appraisal District, it seems eerily quiet around the city and school district.

At the end of the day, not much is going to change on the home front because our property values and taxes are still going to increase, and these homeowners will still be dealing with increasing monthly mortgage escrow payments and difficult decisions of moving or losing their homes.

Will someone please tell me this isn't the end result of living the "Wylie Way". Surely, our city and school leaders can do better than this.

Image credit: Movoto Foundation

What you don't see matters in Wylie taxes and budget

I would like to say I had a little something to do with the virtual uproar on Nextdoor over Wylie's tax rate, I cannot. Interestingly, discussion seems to have taken on a life all its own, as one thread has over 250 posts.

Perhaps I have given a little push and plus on discussion inadvertently, as citizens come across my blog posts about our tax rate. It's not like I haven't been blogging about these topics for the past five years, or anything.

That said, let me provide fair warning that people are fairly grumpy about the tax rate. Add to that the increase of property values Collin County Central Appraisal District (CAD) approved yet again this year, and you can bet your sweet bippy that fairly grumpy is tame compared to his brother, downright huffy.

Indeed, many of Wylie's taxpayers are huffy that their taxes have increased dramatically over the past four years. They're organizing a protest as I write.

One statement I read from fellow taxpayer looks a little something like this:
"One thing that confuses me on that post. "they are spending it like drunken sailors". What exactly are they spending it on? I'm sorry but Wylie is not the prettiest city in the area. I don't notice any over the top glamorous buildings. Landscaping has to start to look like a field before it's touched. I don't see an abundance of city vehicles. Most of the schools look outdated (from the outside). Public art and city parks are mediocre at best. Roads are in fair condition but still a lot of improvements and expansion is needed. So I'm, confused on what they are spending it on.

Not arguing that we're not getting screwed, I just can't see where all this money is going if we are being taxed too high. Because it sure doesn't show anywhere."
Totally on point. Can I just say that I love this person? They summed up in 136 words or less, what I've been saying for years. What exactly is the city spending our tax revenue on, especially when growth pays for growth? Any new fire and police and their digs should have been paid for by revenue growth each year. It's not like we haven't had it since Woodbridge Crossing came to town. You know, that little compound on 544 that contains Target and Homegoods.

To address the comment in the quote above on schools, allow me to give credit where credit is due. The schools have nothing to do with city funds and frankly, WISD has done a great job of updating the schools with the latest technology and programs. Though they don't rollback the tax rate, the additional taxes they spend each year have put WISD on the map, and are a large reason why people are moving to Inspiration and other new communities that attend Wylie schools. There are real, tangible results that can be seen in test scores, school ratings and stellar students. Though our ISD tax rate is high, it's not the highest in North Texas, and our district has other extenuating factors related to funding. When we begin discussion on lowering their tax rate, we will have to tread carefully so as not to cut off our nose to spite our face. I suspect their time is coming as well, but for now my focus is on the city.

The city holds the second largest chunk of our consternation, and as was pointed out in the quote above, there just aren't that many tangible things we are getting out of it. OK, so they donated some land to Collin College, but our taxes are going to increase over that entity as well.

So, what exactly does a drunken sailor look like? Though the amount the city gets pales in comparison to WISD, the city gets other revenue, like a portion of sales tax from all those chicken shacks on 544 and 78. In fact, I can only recall one or two times our quarterly sales tax revenue has not increased over the past several years. It's reported in the Wylie News every quarter.

Why are people huffy, you ask? This year turns out to be the perfect storm, and to say I'm not tickled pink about it would be an outright lie. Especially since I have dedicated so much of my personal time to this blog and to politics.

To start, legacy homeowners are getting squeezed with CADs valuation increases year after year, bringing them only somewhat closer to fair market with the near 10% increase this year. To be honest, even if I fought my increase, it doesn't stop it from going up the next several years.  It only delays the inevitable. Meanwhile, sales prices of homes in the area continue to go up thanks to scarcity. There simply aren't enough homes on the market, and the moment a house sells a new CAD benchmark is set.

Also, people may lose their homes as they become priced out. Homeowners of recently built houses, who paid taxes their first year based upon unimproved land, are now getting notices from their mortgage companies, increasing the escrow portion of their payment dramatically to cover the land and improvement (their house). Plus, they are finding out their property value increased nearly 10%, and, as you can imagine, some may not be able to afford the increased monthly payment. Will we see another wave of foreclosures like we did from 2002-2005? Well I suppose that's one way to lower property values and ultimately our taxes, because that's exactly what it did, too.

Still, what about those who don't have a mortgage? Their tax rate increased 9.7% but I'll bet their annual pay increase wasn't that much.

The most important aspect of this tax equation lies with the Wylie tax rate. The names and faces rarely change, only the date does. So here's how I predict the song and dance will go when the budget makes its debut in a few weeks.

The city manager and finance manger will bring a preliminary budget reflecting some horrifying numbers that show revenue cannot possibly gel with liabilities. That's because the budget consists of make-believe numbers.

What they don't go over in detail is the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which is where the real action takes place. As you can see in the images below, the line item worthy of note every year is "Non current liabilities - due in more than one year". For instance, in 2012 there was $108,995,761. In the current budget there is $103,932,269.

In what I call the second phase of the budget, the horrifying expenses are brought into seemingly respectable numbers and everyone brings out the virtual baseball bat to beat themselves on the back with for the great job they did balancing those fictitious numbers. Meanwhile, in phase three, taxpayers will be handed a few cent reduction, our taxes will still increase overall, and they'll be congratulated for delivering us from a budget crisis. Right about here I'm rolling my eyes. No, seriously.

This 15 minute video explains the concept fairly well. The point of the developing protests in Wylie is that people are on to the scheme. The city is not in jeopardy of running out of money if we push them for a full roll-back to the effective tax rate this year. In fact, they will not run out of money if we also push for a reduction beyond that of our tax rate by a couple pennies. The former is absolutely doable; the latter is a bit inconceivable considering the long and quasi-entertaining budget song and dance history. I imagine there would be a bit of melodrama from the city over giving taxpayers both.

Still, as in previous years, they have excuses readied for taxpayers who complain about the rate. They will nod their heads in agreement, and claim they are paying taxes just like us. They will placate us into thinking they are just as upset. At the end of the day, just as in years past, they will shimmy by like Solid Gold dancers with their canned narrative on growth, road improvements, police and fire headcount, raises and a public safety building overhaul, which is certainly needed but can be handled in other ways.

As a side note, with regard to PD headcount, the city placed an additional four PD in their budget this time last year, though they still hadn't filled a handful of spots with viable candidates. Former Councilman William Whitney picked up that torch, which was quickly extinguished by Mayor Eric Hogue, who publicly pooh poohed him. Yup, it happened just that way last year.

In an ideal world, it would be great to know that our city council members understand the concepts and truly dig into the CAFR, which has proven to be a grey entity floating above their heads for years. In an ideal world, they would vehemently lead the fight on lowering our tax rate and stand with us rather than against us.

Unfortunately, the legacy our mayor, city manager and past and present councils are creating, is that of a city that freely empties our pockets, and I have every confidence this will continue unless taxpayers stand up to them.

Image credit: Global Marine Drilling in St. John, Newfoundland

Wylie's Sister City

Over the past week, it has been affirmed to me time and again, just how much I love Wylie. I love the close-knit community feel we have here and I was reminded of this numerous times last week as I celebrated the beautiful life of my great niece and also mourned the tragic loss of it.

Very few people leave a legacy in their lives, if ever, so it is truly rare to find a teenager who not only left a legacy, but sowed love all around her. How could the light from this beautiful, artistic old soul in a young body be extinguished to early?

On Monday, May 1, 2017 I answered my brother's call to hear, "Alaina was hit by a car after school and is not expected to make it."

I cried out. How could this happen?

As the story unfolded, it turns out Alaina attempted to cross the street as she walked from her middle school to the high school for theater practice, and accidentally stepped in front of a car driven by a 16-year-old high school girl. In that moment, two young girl's lives were tragically altered forever. Heartbreak times two.

When Alaina was called to heaven two days later, it became crystal clear that she left a legacy behind. Not just a small glimmer, not a teenage flame, a full-blown torch for all to see.

This torch will be carried on by family and friends, and a community who came to know her through the testimony of her classmates. Dozens affirmed that her legacy is about the unwavering love and acceptance this young wisp of a girl lived and breathed.

As a community surrounded her and grieved heavily with the family, story after story was shared painting Alaina's beautiful character. She would sit with those who were isolated, reach out to those were were bullied and share her soul selflessly with those who needed a friend. One young classmate recounted how she was upset because someone called her fat, and Alaina told her she was just as she should be. Others shared how she made them feel special, even though they hardly knew her. I believe character is built not just by caring parents and a strong family unit, but also by a nurturing community.

Alaina's legacy was that of love and acceptance, and the small community of Flushing, Michigan played that legacy out as the family grieved this past week. This tight-knit community enveloped the family in love and care, just as the people in Wylie do when tragedy strikes one of our own. Amazingly, our communities are bonded in this way, just like siblings are forever bonded.

Last week, as I traveled to Flushing and experienced the spirit of a loving small-town, I looked to Wylie with renewed eyes and was reminded of why I love it here so much.

Wylie Campaign Disrespectful to US Flag

If ever there was a reason to vote for Dr. Timothy "Toby" Wallis for Wylie City Council Place 5, this is it.

At the polls last weekend, outside the Rita Smith Library, Ziggy Kagnew's campaign tossed the American flag on the ground. When they were admonished for it, they still put it on the ground as depicted in the image above.

In the photo you can see that Kagnew's push cards are held down by a rock from outside the library, which are placed on top of the flag, on top of his "Ziggy" yard sign for place 5. Disgraceful!

Obviously this is an issue considering Kagnew's campaign has been on Ethiopian rights and helping them take over government power starting at the local level and moving up.

You can find additional details on  my blog post Dr. Timothy "Toby" Wallis Endorsement