Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Forever remembered in the annals of history?

Election Day: November 4, 2014

As millions of Americans go to the polls today to vote, keep in mind that possibly one day, statues will be cast to honor the politicians elected.
Buildings erected to commemorate the great achievements they make.
Monuments built to last for decades.
For me, only fitting that I'm listed on a plaque by the toilets at City Park in Commerce, Texas.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Hunt County Cities

Both cities had citizens with signs out front of City Hall prior to a City Council meeting within the past week.

A representative from one group was allowed to approach their City Council during the public presentation portion of their meeting. 


(Tongue in Cheek) Believe it or not, both cities are in the United States of America.

Story in Herald Banner showing how at least the City Council of Greenville cares enough about its citizens to allow them to speak. Story in Commerce Journal showing to me that the City Council of Commerce seems to care only about itself.

Photos from Herald Banner Website (Brad Keller) and No Kill Hunt County Facebook page.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

At City Hall: Long Live the Spin Doctor

This blog is in response to the the City of Commerce's press release regarding presentations made at city council meetings.

MY OPINION: the press release is BS

Does the City have a policy and procedure for public comment? Yes it does. Read the agenda. The period from as close to 6:05 to 6:20 is "RESERVED" for citizens to discuss items not listed on the agenda.

Definition of reserved: "kept specially for a particular purpose"

So by their posted agenda, no other city business should be conducted during that time, other than to receive presentations from citizens for items that are not on the agenda.

Common sense would have indicated that with a standing room only crowd, there is probably at least one person in the audience that wishes to make a presentation to the city.

From firsthand experience, the previous two mayors (me being one of them), would ask during the "Presentation to City Council by members of the Public" if anyone in the audience wanted to make a presentation.  Apparently the current mayor chooses not to.  (Please note that I did not attend this meeting and if memory serves I have only attended one council meeting since leaving office in 2012.)

The press release states "it should be noted that, prior to and during such meeting, no Citizen came forth to indicate a desire to discuss any matter on the agenda, or any subject pertaining to city government."

Was there a city official or city employee that told each and every person before they came into the council chamber that if they wanted to address the council they would have to let them know prior to the meeting? My guess is that there was not, BECAUSE the agenda already says between 6:05-6:20 is reserved for citizens to make presentations.

Was there a separate posting other then the agenda to indicate to citizens that they must come forth prior to the meeting and let the City know they wish to make a presentation? Once again, my guess is that there was not, because the POSTED agenda already says between 6:05-6:20 is reserved for citizens to make presentations.

Let's be real here. A mistake was made. But instead of the City taking full responsibility (and let's face it, it was the mayor's error since he officiates the meeting), someone(s) at City Hall is trying to shift part of the blame on to its CITIZENS, when it says "no one came forth" to let us know they wanted to discuss a matter. Once again, how were they to know? Because apparently following your own agenda is not the right way to do it.

In my opinion, citizens did come forth. So many so, that the council chamber was full to standing room only. They did follow your POSTED instructions on how to make a presentation to the city, they were there between 6:05-6:20.

Now it is apparent from the press release that City Hall will create more rules and regulations, where none are needed. In the future to speak to the council you must make a "written request".  Why does any government create more rules, regulations and procedures for it citizens?  It's simple: to limit input from its citizens. 

Will you have to produce a photo id to show that you are a citizen as well?  Heaven forbid if a "non citizen" wanted to address the council. (Sarcasm there folks)

And what is good for the goose will have to be good for the gander. I assume now at EVERY meeting involving the city council and any of the city boards or committees that citizens will have to make a written request to be able to make a presentation to them as well. Can't enforce a set of regulations on one and not on the others.

If they'd simply followed the posted meeting agenda, none of this would be necessary.  Apparently this council has its own AGENDA.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ridiculousness in Commerce TX

This blog is in reference to the City Council tabling the funding of a study to examine the feasibility for a new city pool. 

Be prepared this is a long blog and chalk full of facts that probably only a handful know.

Apparently the City Council cannot find $3,000 for a feasibility study for a new pool. Disappointing.

Six or seven years ago the council found $5,000 to have the city certified as a retirement community (which finally happened in 2014) and this year the council has agreed to pay a portion of a $48,000 feasibility study for a health care facility. Can't find $3,000? Really.

Let's begin...

According to the City of Commerce's website: The City at the end of fiscal year 2013 ran a surplus of $385,982. By their numbers, revenues exceed expenses in 2011 and 2012 to a total of $1,107,219. So in the last 3 years, CASH RESERVES should have increased by $1,493,201.

In the 2013-14 budget on page 25, there is a line item called Contingency Fund.  The Contingency fund is typically used to help pay for anything that was not anticipated with a "normal" budget line. At the start of the fiscal year it had $40,000 in it. (See the City Budget Here)

From what I gathered, here is the scene at the April 15th City Council Meeting. Members of the Parks Board approach the council seeking around $3,000 to have a professional survey conducted to see if there is a need for a new pool in Commerce.  After some discussion, the item was tabled.

So let's back up. The City has run a budget surplus of almost $1.5 Million over the past 3 years and has another $40,000 in a fund for this year, but you can't find $3,000 to pay for a survey? Sorry, not funding the survey just doesn't add up.

But let's dig a little deeper...

Apparently one comment at the meeting was that with Covidien closing, the City cannot afford to move forward with a possible new pool.  

This seems to be the consensus at City Hall: THE SKY IS FALLING, Covidien closed.

Let's actually look at what is happening to our tax base.  According to the Hunt County Appraisal District's 2014 Notice of Appraised Value obtained on 5/1/14, Covidien's total appraised value will be reduced by approximately $9 million. (Covidien used to be called Tyco.)

Using those figures, they will pay $74,0000 less in property taxes to the City next year. That is a big number but when compared to the entire City budget of $4.6 million that is less than 2%.  

Also keep in mind that a large portion of the future property tax revenue that we will lose is being offset  by the fact that Hydro was recently annexed into the city as they reached the end of their 10 year abatement.  This also means they will have to pay franchise tax on their use of utility services (Natural Gas and Electric) which estimated several years ago will add an additional $50,000 to revenues for the City.

For some to claim that their hands are tied because Covidien has closed is absurd and quite frankly defeatist.  Challenging times happen and one must adopt and push forward.  

Need further proof that City finances are not as dire as some would like you to believe?  Look at sales tax revenue. Since Covidien announced it was closing in 2011, sales tax revenues have gone up year after year and Commerce is already 3.5% ahead of last years collections.

Also look at Page 1 of the City Budget and notice how Fines and Forfeits has dramatically increased since 2011.  This is in direct response from City Officials putting pressure on the Police Department to write more tickets. Collected fines in 2011 = $132,000. In 2013, that total grew to $244,000.

Covidien's closing is a terrible lose to the community but the excuse that we can't do anything is a broken record that we have heard for years now.

By the City's own records, over the past 3 years they have accumulated over $1.5 million in reserves. $1.5 MILLION and you can't see fit to spend $3000? 

Face it. The City has the money but for some reason the council refuses to listen to a recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Board.  Sad you don't follow their recommendation, since the City Council appoints those members.  

But then again, the scuttle around town is that there are those at City Hall who are seeking to have members removed or not reappoint those who don't live in the city limits.  The City Manager doesn't live in town and at least one member of the EDC Board doesn't live in town. Are you going to remove them? Of course you won't. But why not? What's good for the goose is good for the gander. 

So let's put the money issue behind us. You have it. Spend it.  Pay for the survey.

NOW: What do I think the survey will show? We need more then just a pool. We need to dream bigger.  Remember the article from September 2013 in the Commerce Journal?

We need to build a "community center".  A center that will possibly include a basketball court,  pool, house the public library and has adjoined to it a skate park.

Is this crazy?

1) We know our "Friends" at the library need a new facility. 
2) Seems there are some in the community who want a new pool.
3) We also have the Skate Park Project. 
4) The Old Middle School gym is just that; OLD and OUTDATED

So why not a facility to house all?

The library building is on its last legs; roof leaks and flooding issues with a heavy rain. The pool is closed. The gym on Pecan Street is well past its useful life. The Skate Park Project has commitments for funds and this could be the only facility of its type in Hunt County.  

This could become a regional attraction.

Bring those potential players together (Parks and Rec, Friends of the Library and Skate Park Project) and get this accomplished.

Divided the chance of success is limited, but together this could happen.

This will require some give and take.  Some egos to take a back seat for what is BEST for the community as a whole.  It can happen!

Oh but wait, I can hear some detractors now: If we build such a facility, we won't have the funds to operate it. 

Not so fast. 

Per the City budget the library receives almost $67,000 per year for the operation and before it was shut down,  the City spent $60,000 per year operating the pool (maintenance, salaries of pool workers, etc.).  So if you combine the Library and a "Rec Center" into one facility you would be able to have $127,000 to help cover some of the operating costs.  User fees, skate competitions, tournaments, etc. are other ways to help with operating costs.

For me, the sad truth is that there are many in town who are perfectly happy with Commerce like it is. Unfortunately, a few of them meet the third Tuesday of every month at City Hall and control the purse strings. 

To close this out, if we don't think different, act different, how will anything change in Commerce?

Over 15 years ago the City spent, I believe close to, $100,000 for a facilities master plan study.  That plan included the Fire and Police Station, the City Hall and signage to downtown that were all built.  Included in that plan was a new recreation center.  Fifteen years later, I think the city council needs to spend the money on a study to see if a center is needed.  Your Parks and Recreation Board thinks it's worthwhile.

Is $3000 out of a $4.6 Million dollar budget to much to ask for? 

Council members are elected to represent the desires of the people, aren't they? 
Government representing the people. What a novel concept.

Oh, and the big question: How could we pay to build such a facility? A possible answer: EDC funds.  Either through a one time special election or changing Commerce to 4B. 

And we are closer than you really think to have such a facility if everyone will play nice and work together.  The Skate Park Project has already raised some funds. The City could sell the old library and use those proceeds. The Parks and Rec Board has researched a New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program that could contribute 
$800,000. Plenty of possibilities if folks will think outside the box.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Let's Raise Taxes

Commerce: Let's Raise Property Taxes

Yes, I put it out there. We need to raise property taxes. 

We need to raise property taxes to get rid of the eye sores that are prevalent throughout town.

I know we already have high taxes in Commerce, but how else are we going to improve our town without getting rid of substandard homes?  

How are we going to attract people to live in our town and employers if they drive down our streets and look at the junk that is here? 

Have you taken a drive down Park, Locust or Sycamore lately?  How about the former pride and joy of town, Bonham Street?

In past budgets, the City Council has allocated $10,000 for housing demo.  Basically $10,000 will allow you to tear down at best 2 homes per year.

In my opinion, that fund needs at least $100,000 per year for the next 5 years.  That would allow the City to tear down 15-20 substandard homes per year. Drive around there are plenty of vacant, substandard homes one could find in 10 minutes.

The policy in the past has been that once a home is torn down a lien is put against the property for the amount of the demo and usually you will also find there are past dues property taxes as well.

So when you start adding up the demo fee and unpaid taxes you are left with trying to re-coup $5000-$10,000 and the lots are maybe worth a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars at best.

So let's work with the taxing entities on the past due taxes, forget about ever collecting on the demo fee and sell the lots for $100. With the stipulations that new single family homes must be built within 18 months.  

Also wave the building permit fees. Rental or owner occupied single family homes, I don't care.  To be upfront and honest most of those lots will take years to sell and have someone commit to building a home, but would you rather see a falling down house or a vacant lot?

What would that mean to the tax rate? Probably going from .82 to .86. 

But in the long run, if we can get 50-80 properties back on the tax roll with a $50,000 to $80,000 house AND if we have responsible council members, we could reduce the tax rate as we see new construction and grow.

RAISE TAXES! Something to think about.

**The cute house to the left is one of two similar homes built here in Commerce by RumCon. http://rumcon.com/

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Wonderful World of Real Estate

The past several days have been incredible and 2014 is off to a fantastic start.

I'd like to take credit and say that I am a terrific Realtor; I'm not. God has been at work. 

There are a lot of people involved in making a real estate closing happen . Other agents, title companies, surveyors, lenders and let's not forget the buyers and sellers. I am fortunate to play a role in helping bring it together.

It took me a long time to learn to turn my life over to God, yes there will be ups and downs, but mostly, be prepared to be amazed.

Quay Throgmorton is a licensed Texas Real Estate Broker and owner of Hunt County Real Estate. Serving the buyers and sellers of real estate in Commerce, Greenville, Campbell, Wolfe City, Lone Oak, Quinlan, Caddo Mills, Celeste, Royse City and all points in between. 

Please visit my website: www.HuntCountyRealEstate.com 

You can also follow me on: Facebook Twitter  YouTube & Google+