San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 21st, 2010
Editorial: Hasty decisions make bad policy

By the San Marcos Local News editorial board

We do not anticipate that this week will go into the annals as one of the most glorious in the history of San Marcos city government.

The city council is about to make two hasty decisions for no apparent reason, other than to enable an outgoing mayor and her trained majority to encumber future councils with terrible policy.

Tuesday night, the council will vote on a development agreement with Carma Texas that includes a tax incentive for the Paso Robles project. Giving tax incentives for residential development not only flies in the face of sound city planning by any professional estimate, but it also will wind up costing taxpayers and/or utility rate payers at least $10 million, by charitable estimate.

Wednesday, the city is likely complete its expedited search for a city manager less than two months after having Rick Menchaca out of the way so that he couldn’t put his foot down on the Paso Robles giveaway.

Whatever are the reasons for making these calls so rapidly, we do not believe the city’s best interests are among them. We suppose that the new city council to be seated in November would pick a different city manager, simply because that search would attract a stronger pool of candidates. And we’re pretty sure that a new city council would be unwilling to give away $10-20 million for a residential developer. That’s why the council is rushing to these decisions.

In addition to everything else that has been said for and against the Paso Robles development, we are disturbed about the implications of the tax incentive for a reason we haven’t yet mentioned.

It happens that the city is in the midst of raising water rates and other utility rates. At present, the city is planning water rate increases of six percent in 2013, 13 percent in 2014, four percent in 2015 and eight percent in 2016. For every $100 you spend on water today, you will spend $133 in 2016. Much of the cost is to pay for water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the city is angling to give away millions to cover a good bit of Carma’s infrastructure costs for Paso Robles, which will put additional pressure on utility rates because the city does not need to make this concession. It is the developer’s responsibility to provide infrastructure. Carma is asking to be reimbursed $20 million from the increased property tax collection created by the development.

Being charitable, we’ll say $10 million of that is legitimately the city’s burden, as it would pay for oversizing to serve that part of the city beyond the developer’s needs for Paso Robles. But that’s still $10 million for infrastructure the city is giving away at a time when city officials already are contemplating water rate increases that come to more than eight percent per year, with much of that increase earmarked for infrastructure.

For this city government, $10 million is a lot of money. Considering that every penny of property tax generates $259,260 in San Marcos, the city would have to levy nearly 40 cents per $100 of taxable value to cover $10 million. The city’s tax rate is 53.02 cents.

We don’t suppose the city will cover that whole difference with higher property taxes in the future. Higher utility rates are another matter. Texas cities have historically run their water operations to surplus revenue so they could keep property taxes lower. But where does San Marcos turn? San Marcos already has the highest water rates in the area, those rates are going up 33 percent in the next six years and now the city is unnecessarily giving away $10 million in utility infrastructure.

Many are swayed by the argument that the property tax to be generated by Paso Robles will cover the $10-20 million in question and it won’t come out of anyone else’s pocket. It is a naive comfort. Utility rate payers will pay that $10 million, because it is a utility expense.

As to the city manager search, the fundamentals are indisputable. No city manager who isn’t already displaced or desperate would touch San Marcos right now. Who would allow himself to be interviewed and hired by an outgoing mayor and a city council that stands to be substantially changed by November? Nobody wants to go to work for people who didn’t hire them. Unless they’re not already working, in which case any job is better than no job. A city manager who works for a council other than the one that hired him is bound to discover that the job isn’t what he thought it was. The new city council is going to have a city manager on its hands who stands to be more philosophically aligned with the former council.

None of the city’s three finalists is what one would call a hot commodity. Jim Nuse already has resigned as the city manager of Round Rock, apparently intending to retire, effective in January. Scott Moore has one year of city manager experience in Peoria, IL. Jeffrey Howell is the city manager in Kilgore, which is about one-fourth the size of San Marcos.

We would have preferred that the next city council pick the city manager, which might have enticed veteran city managers who aren’t already looking for work. It would make a huge difference, attracting better candidates. It might also help if the search involved a longer window so more qualified candidates could respond. When you get better candidates, you get better decisions.

But better decisions seem to not be much of a concern around here. It’s all about faster decisions.

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0 thoughts on “Editorial: Hasty decisions make bad policy

  1. I can’t wait to learn the justification for a TIRZ. As far as I can tell, it will require mendacious reasoning to justify this financial arrangement.

  2. “As to the city manager search, the fundamentals are indisputable. No city manager who isn’t already displaced or desperate would touch San Marcos right now.”
    that’s what i was thinking…

  3. How interesting that one of our City Council members posted on Twitter and Facebook the entry,

    “i love haters”

    tonight during the Citizen Comment period…must have been one of the times they were yawning, too.

  4. It was ridiculous how some can speak about our Mayor. She looked professional and thanx for the majority vote council and Mayor voted. Its all gonna work out

  5. I love the gossip on this site. Mr. Harvey, wouldn’t you consider that a form of transparency? You of all people should love that council member for publicly stating how they felt.

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