Sunday, April 15, 2012

Voters still have no say...

Is what the Fort Worth Star-Telegram could have called their article, "Voters had no say as DFW cities took on debt". 

Read what your "leaders" say about YOU.  Does it sound like they called you stupid?  Or they just know you're not paying attention?  What's it going to take before you do?  They aren't going to stop on their own.

While we commend the "news" paper on writing a "news" story, we noticed one tiny, billion dollar item was missing from the list.  The Trinity River Vision, which is completely taxpayer funded, was not listed as another one of these projects where voters have no say. 

If you are a citizen and taxpayer of the metroplex, it is YOUR duty to send this to every citizen and taxpayer in the metroplex you know.  Your kids are counting on YOU.  Then, you should read their article , "Congressional mailing privilege favors incumbents at taxpayer expense".  Duh.  They use your money to tell YOU to vote for them, to keep them in office, so they can keep spending your money.  WHO didn't know that? WHY do YOU continue to do it?  Tell us, inquiring minds want to know.

If we haven't convinced you yet, maybe some of what they said will...

In fact, none of them got to vote at all.

However, taxpayers are on the hook should funding fall short.

$52.7 million -- wasn't presented to voters.

A Haltom City official cautioned that greater disclosure would confuse people and make them more inclined to oppose something because "it's just a bunch of big numbers."

And they aren't foolproof.

One critic testified before the Legislature that such financing can result in "vampire indebtedness" -- debt that never dies.

"I think we're smart enough to know when we're in their wallets," Combs said.

And the moral to the story?  Do something.

Keller voters forced an election in 2006 and crushed the proposal while also voting out three council members who had supported it.

Please. Do something!

In Tarrant, 18 cities, including Fort Worth, borrowed at least 40 percent of their tax-supported debt from 2005 to 2011 without voter approval, according to an analysis of Texas Bond Review Board data.

Fort Worth City Treasurer James Mauldin said certificates are used in many cases to avoid the time it would take to bring a bond to voters. Such measures also save on election costs, officials said. "Usually, it's we need it before we can put another [bond] program out on the streets," he said.

"It seems some local governments are making every effort to [not put] things before voters," Venable said. But with so much focus on the national debt, she said, "few people realize that local debt is growing exponentially as well."

But official statements about the debt, on file with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, show that in recent years the borrowing funded projects such as new libraries that some see as amenities or computers and software that may be outdated before the debt is scheduled to be paid off.

North Richland Hills' 2010 official statement for a $23.7 million certificate fails to mention that uses for the money included the recreation center that opened Saturday. Yet the city says that's where they got $18.8 million for the complex.

A spokeswoman said that the information was omitted in error, that it wasn't a legal problem, and that voters were informed through a council resolution and legal notices.

Or cities may say that revenue from special tax districts or sales taxes will pay off new debt, but they don't make clear that if that revenue falls short, taxpayers may bear the burden. That's because to obtain more favorable terms, cities usually back the certificates with property taxes.

Keller serves as a cautionary tale. The city borrowed $33 million using certificates to finance a town hall and other projects, with revenue from a special tax district to pay for it. But revenue couldn't keep up, and the city, despite refinancing the debt, had to use other funds to make payments.

Taxpayers could turn to the Texas Bond Review Board for information on borrowing, but it may be unreliable. In spot-checks, the Star-Telegram found errors in the board's information. For instance, Richland Hills' per capita debt was skewed by a reported population of 338 -- the figure should have been 23 times that: 7,801 residents. The board reported the assessed property values of Weatherford at $329 million, a number off by more than $1.4 billion. Arlington's tax-supported debt was listed incorrectly as $432 million. The city says it owes $659 million.

In Fort Worth, where debt and interest top $1 billion, Mayor Betsy Price said she believes that elected officials' job is to provide full disclosure. Price said the city communicates through town hall meetings, through social media sites such as Facebook and at council meetings.

"But it's also the citizens' responsibility to read the details," she said. "Voters need to study and get engaged on those issues and ask their elected officials tough questions."

Cities aren't required to tell voters that they can block the certificates. Voters can force an election if 5 percent of them sign a petition and submit it before the certificates are approved.

One of the few instances of that took place in Keller, where voters had rejected a bond issue for a library in 1999. Nevertheless, the City Council approved plans in 2005 to borrow about $8.5 million for a library without an election.

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