After Hurricane Ike struck in 2008, city leaders in Galveston urged taxpayers to accept a sharp increase in the tax rate.

The tax base had been badly damaged. Millions of dollars of property that had been on the tax rolls vanished.

But if city government was going to continue to provide services and have the strength to rebuild public infrastructure, it must have money to operate.

So, city leaders made a promise — repeatedly and publicly. If taxpayers would accept an increase in the tax rate, the increase would be temporary. Once the tax base recovered, the rate would be lowered.

Some people now suggest that promise was never made.

Actually, the promise was not only made, it was publicly doubted and publicly debated.

Many people suggested it was idiotic to trust the city. The skeptics pointed out that, by the time the tax base rebounded, a new mayor and new council would be in office. These new office holders wouldn’t be inclined to honor the old council’s promises.

Instead, critics said, the city would just use the money to feed its bureaucracy, increasing the number of public employees, thereby increasing payroll.

But, with municipal government on its back, city leaders pleaded for trust. And so it was that the tax rate was raised 6 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That’s $60 on property assessed at $100,000. For many island property owners, that was a sacrifice.

The question today is how the next city council — the one that will be seated after the May 10 election — will reward that sacrifice.

The city’s tax base has rebounded since Hurricane Ike. In round numbers, values are up about half a billion compared to before the storm. The city budgeted $20 million from property taxes in 2008-09. It budgeted about $23 million this year.

But the argument at this point really isn’t about numbers. It’s about trust.

The question before the next council is the truth of that old suggestion that it would be idiotic to trust the city, especially when money is involved.

• Heber Taylor

Galveston property values

Entity                         2014            2013            Increase      Percent

Galveston                $4.9 billion    $4.5 billion    $354 million    7.8

Galveston College     $5.9 billion    $5.6 billion    $388 million    7

Galveston ISD          $5.8 billion    $5.4 billion    $390 million    7.2

SOURCE: Galveston Central Appraisal District Preliminary Values 2014; all numbers rounded

(7) comments

Mike Leahy

Another red-letter day for me, when I find myself in full agreement (and even appreciation) of our Editor.

As to the last paragraph about it being idiotic to trust the City with money, well I guess we have to trust them with some amount money but, to believe any story they come up with in order to get more, is indeed idiotic. And that hardly stops at out own City.

realistically, we are all blessed if we are able to trust our own family and small circle of friends with money...

Ellen Morrison

At the Candidate Forum at the Grand, Elizabeth Beeton said she's in favor of returning this money to the taxpayers - and her history on council indicates she would.

That same night, Jim Yarbrough said he'd have to "look at it" first, and then said it should probably be an incremental rollback if it would happen at all. His history indicates that no such rollback would occur. The County tax rate increased while he was Commissioner, the public debt increased _by 1000%_, and then there was the Justice Center overrun....

I don't want him handling my tax dollars, thank you!

Steve Fouga

"But the argument at this point really isn’t about numbers. It’s about trust."

This is the only part of Heber's editorial I disagree with. For me it's about numbers. I wouldn't trust Galveston city government as far as I could throw 'em.

By the way, I could throw Elizabeth Beeton a heckuva lot further than Jim Yarbrough.

Raif Smith

Our streets and infrastructure are in bad shape. Years of bad management and lack of money. People complain about the condition of the city one day and want a tax cut the next. Is $5 dollars a month per thousand such a real burden for the average taxpayer

We have jobs in Galveston. Just look at ,the causeway inbound traffic on a week day morning. Our population will remain static or decline as long as our town looks crappy.

But then there is the trust issue

Raif Smith

My math was off. $60 per 100,000 is $5 per month pert 1000,000

Steve Fouga

raifm, I agree with you about preferring a nice-looking city to having the money. But since not much is being done to improve the city anyway, I'd just as soon have the money.

Mike Leahy

Wise choice Jake. There is no direct correlation between giving the City money and any actual improvements to the City. When City employees want more money (probably to donate to Mayor and Council Candidates most likely to benefit them) they just quadruple your monthly water bill and hope you won't notice when you check your back account balance. If you do notice, they tell you there is little they can do but, maybe will send someone to actually read the meter in a week or two.

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