Mayor's Update #17: County Property is County Property?
By Mayor Bruce Peele
When I was elected Mayor of Blanco, I saw that the City streets were in bad shape. One possible solution was to use a chip seal patching machine like that used by Blanco County. As Blanco County had four patching machines, I set up a meeting with the County to ask if the City could borrow or rent a patching machine. When I asked about using this equipment, I was told “County Property is County Property” and the City could neither borrow nor rent a machine.
In response, I told County Judge Bray and one of the Commissioners that since City of Blanco citizens helped pay for the patching machine they should have access to it. I was floored by their response when they asked “what do you mean--they paid for the machine.”
I explained that City of Blanco citizens are ALSO citizens of Blanco County and they, like other County residents, pay property taxes to the County. Thus, like all County residents, City residents are entitled to receive services from the County. This argument fell on deaf ears. The Commissioner repeated his statement “County Property is County Property” and the County would not share the machine. Blanco ended up buying its own machine, along with a dump truck to supply the patching materials to the machine.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, a few months later, I received a letter from County Judge Bray requesting that the City of Blanco increase its annual contribution for County Dispatch Service from our current $500/month to $6,558/month (i.e. $78,690/year). Later, the request was lowered to $2,548/month or $30,578/year." Needless to say, I was shocked by the proposed raise and I requested the County delay consideration of the increase for a year while the City reviewed the matter. The Commissioners agreed with my request.
In June of 2016, I wrote Judge Bray and the Commissioners explaining why the City of Blanco could not agree to the increased contribution.
Double Taxation: In 2015, citizens in the City of Blanco paid $493,170 in real property taxes to the County to fund County services. If City residents pay County property taxes, just like County residents, why should the Blanco residents have to pay more for County services than residents living outside the City limits? If the County is not covering all of its expenses, wouldn't it be appropriate to raise property taxes for everyone in the County and not just single out the residents of the cities of Blanco and Johnson City?
Discrimination: Judge Bray’s demand to increase payments for Dispatch Services was not directed to all users of the Service (DPS, Round Mountain, etc), but only to the cities of Blanco and Johnson City.
Voluntary Contributions: In 2003, the City voluntarily contributed $100/month to the County for Dispatch Services. In 2012, County Sheriff Bob Morgan and Commissioner Paul Granberg requested that the City of Blanco increase its voluntary contribution "from $100/month to $500/month." The City agreed to the request and has been paying the $500/month since 2013.
Earlier this year, one of our County Commissioners told me that the Sheriff's Office intended to request that the City of Blanco increase its voluntary contribution to $500/month and then, in the future, the County would make modest requests to raise our voluntary contributions even higher. Until Judge Bray’s 2015 letters, no increases to our voluntary contribution had ever been requested.
Obviously, Judge Bray’s demand is not viewed by the City of Blanco as either a "request" to increase our voluntary contribution or a "modest" increase. Instead, Judge Bray’s letters are viewed as "demands" to increase our voluntary contributions and if Blanco fails to agree, there is an implied threat that the County will terminate services.
Failure to Consider Other Contributions from Blanco: The City and County have a long-standing relationship wherein various services have been provided by the City to the County and vice versa. The County’s demand to increase the City of Blanco’s contribution is a unilateral action that fails to take into account various services the City provides to the County, at no cost to the County. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the County wants to increase our contribution, maybe the City of Blanco should charge the County for the various services it provides the County. Here are some examples:
Fire truck: We purchased a fire truck that is routinely used in the County to protect County residents at no cost to the County.
Police Department Support: The Blanco Police Department assists the County Sheriff in responding to calls outside the city limits of Blanco, i.e., in the County. We never charge the County for this assistance.
Emergency Communications Tower: In 2011, the County requested that the City of Blanco give the County real property to construct an emergency services communication tower. We saw the benefit to be gained and gave the land to the County at no cost.
From these encounters, I have learned some valuable lessons: First, in the view of Blanco County, “County Property is County Property.” Second, the County has no problem imposing a double tax on the citizens of the City of Blanco and Johnson City. Third, the County has no problem discriminating between first responders when money is involved.
If you have an opinion on this subject, I would love to hear it. Please send a note to the City of Blanco, attention me. You might also consider sending a copy to the County Judge and/or your County Commissioner, whose contact information is listed on Page Three of this newspaper. Remember, even though you live in the City of Blanco, you are also a tax-paying resident of either Precinct One or Precinct Four of the County of Blanco.