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School taxes increased by 103-1 vote

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The Ellis County Press
            ELLIS COUNTY – All 15 school districts voted to increase school taxes last year despite a state-mandated reduction, but some of those trustees are defending their votes as they stand for re-election.

            “Yes, we increased the tax rate,” said Wayne Shuffield, a Midlothian school board member who, along with fellow incumbent Cindy Williams, approved the unanimous decision to increase taxes last fiscal year. Both are on the May 10 ballot, but Shuffield is unopposed.

            School districts in Texas each contain seven voting members and after a seven-month analysis by The Ellis County Press, records show 103 of those trustees voted for the 4 cent “enrichment” tax, the permission lawmakers gave to districts without getting voter approval. Venus ISD board president Greg Hoffman was not present during the vote, making the cumulative total 103 trustee votes to one.

            Voter approval is needed before schools can increase taxes – which are rapidly increasing due to appraisals - in the future, according to state law.

            Some of the district incumbents who voted for the increases are running unopposed, but other incumbents – such as Red Oak’s – are defending the decisions in mail pieces and campaign literature.

The legislature worked very hard to reduce the property tax burden in the State of Texas,” said Waxahachie school board member Mark Price, the only trustee to vote against the increase but who is not running for re-election. Max Simpson, his colleague who did vote for the increase, is running for re-election. “There was [a] mandate from the governor, lt. governor and speaker of the House to accomplish this goal. Knowing that this issue had been highly debated during the legislative session, and also knowing that as school tax rates were being reduced while certain business taxes were being increased, I did not think it was appropriate or moral to capture a 4 cent tax grab from the pockets of our local property owners. 

“Most districts did this because they could say they were decreasing taxes, since the legislature mandated the decrease, but this decrease was to be made up by increased state funding.”

In fact, the Red Oak ISD did just that. In an article in the Ellis County Chronicle after the tax vote, the headline made mention of the trustees’ tax reduction, but did not mention the board’s 4 cent increase.

“In other words, our school district would be made whole from the increase in the business tax even as local property taxes went down,” said Price, the county’s former Democratic treasurer. “In our case, the board elected to increase taxes an additional 4 cents, above and beyond the break-even point, which is the largest tax increase that has ever happened in my five years on the school board. I will never vote to increase taxes unless it is absolutely necessary [voter approved bond issue], and even then I have to be fully convinced that there is no other way to make cuts or costs savings without hurting our educational system.”

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