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