Calls to The Examiner’s office this week after the story of a 7.07 percent city property tax increase was adopted by unanimous vote of City Council took on a very similar theme, with over 90 percent of the calls stating they had not heard about the city even considering a raise in taxes – much less that they had done it – until reading The Examiner last week.
“Beaumont is being completely destroyed. We are going the same path as Port Arthur” was another common theme.
James Dabney, a Beaumont business owner, said he travels all over Beaumont and sees the people leaving the area from all neighborhoods.
“I don’t think it’s white flight as many try to say; I think there is a lot of tension with all races and it’s caused by the pressures of trying to make a living, educate your children, and just trying to keep a positive focus on life, and the so-called leaders in the community making everything about race,” said Dabney. “I think the average resident in Beaumont gets along fine with people of other races. I don’t think the real problem is with the everyday people — I think it’s with the leaders of both the white and black community. I think the so-called leaders use race to disguise their misdeeds and poor judgment. When you watch your elected officials making bad financial decisions that affect all of us, you have to ask yourself: Where’s the leadership?”
Dabney said when he saw the $43 million that council borrowed and then had to raise taxes to pay back, he could see they weren’t spending it where he thought it should be spent. They were spreading it around so each councilman could show they brought home the bacon.
“They’re pandering for votes, that’s all they’re doing,” he insisted.
One real estate agent interviewed, who asked to remain anonymous, said in her business it is smart to not take sides on political issues. But she, as well as many of her counterparts, is fed up.
“You know people all the time ask us if they should live in Lumberton or Beaumont, and if schools are a factor, we generally will say Lumberton. If schools aren’t an issue, historically Beaumont was the best choice for investment,” said the real estate agent. “That’s not the case anymore, and if they keep raising the cost to live here, the whole city will lose.”
According to the Texas Comptroller, state truth-in-taxation laws give taxpayers a voice in decisions that affect their property tax rates. Beginning in early August, taxing units take the first step toward adopting a tax rate by calculating and publishing the effective and rollback tax rates. The Beaumont administration did in fact follow the law in publishing the proposed tax increase and held public meetings, but appeared to at minimum violate the spirit of the law, and they should have been more transparent in their dealings, according to at least one Beaumont resident that called in.
Randall James, a lifetime Beaumont resident, called first thing on Tuesday and drew a comparison to the Beaumont Independent School District board.
“I don’t see any difference between the board majority of BISD voting on whatever they like without regard to what the taxpayers want and Beaumont City Council,” he said. James added, “If the city manager wants it, the whole council seems to pass it without caring what the voters want. What’s the difference?”
James said if he would have known about the meetings to discuss new taxes, he would have been there, and he is sure many of his neighbors would have as well.
“It’s just like this fiasco in the schools. You have what we called in my day ‘the buddy system’ — I’ll vote with you on this and you vote with me on that, and we will both look good,” James said. According to James, if we keep doing what we are doing in Beaumont, we are going to run everyone off.
The backlash is against Beaumont City Manager Kyle Hayes and the City Council’s decision to borrow $43 million for what they most often referred to as road improvements. But it will fund just $21.75 million in street improvements with $5 million going to a riverfront development, $4.5 million for a new Best Years Senior Center, $3 million for a new fire station in Pear Orchard, a new City Health complex for $1.2 million and various drain and storm projects and contingency with a budget of $7.75 million. The money was borrowed in July with the full knowledge that a tax increase on property owners of 7.07 percent would have to be voted on in order to service the debt.
The new tax levy will fund a budget from property taxes alone to the City of Beaumont of over $47 million, an increase of $26.7 million over the last decade. The debt in the same time period has increased 205 percent, ballooning to over $238 million.
Beaumont’s increase in the tax levy this year slid under the required rollback amount by less than 1 percent. Had the city increased it a tad more, they would have had to put it to the voters for a vote. According to a source close to the city, “That was no accident; it was planned that way. I guarantee the consequences were discussed if it were brought to the voters.”