Monday, August 8, 2011

What is Wrong With the Victoria CAD, Volume 1

As many people know, I have been quite critical of the Victoria Central Appraisal District in recent years. I won't go into what got me started down that road, mostly because it is irrelevant. Let's just say the more I looked into what they were doing, the less I liked it.

Most people make two simple mistakes when they encounter criticism of appraisals. First, they take it personally. They think that if you point out their property or someone they know as being undervalued, then you are making it personal. This logic is no more sound than the person whose property is overvalued, taking it out on those whose properties are undervalued. Second, they don't grasp the idea that we are all in this thing together. Property values not being assessed properly harms everyone whose properties are assessed properly. If the taxing entities are not collecting the proper amount of tax on a particular property, then that disparity must be made up somewhere else. Sooner or later, your property could be that"somewhere else".

There are many things I could say about the Victoria CAD, but this blog is only going to touch on one simple thing. I plan on doing a series of blogs on this subject, as there is so much to say. The main problem with jamming too much information into one blog is that everything I say is fact, verified by hard figures. Any time people look at numbers, the law of diminishing returns tends to kick in rather quickly.

It has long been an assertion of mine (backed up by hundreds of hours of research) that working-class homes in Victoria are valued by the CAD at a much higher percentage of their actual values than the homes located in more affluent neighborhoods. Let me be clear about one thing. This is not a witch hunt, and I do not engage in class warfare. However, what's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. I have no reason to point out that certain property owners should pay more in property taxes, but I can no longer sit back and watch the working middle class of Victoria get squeezed.

For this particular blog, I performed a simple experiment. I logged onto Woolson Real Estate's website and performed two separate searches. Their search engine allows you to search properties by entering a multitude of criteria. For my two searches, I set the minimum price at $100,000 and $300,000.

Then I took the top 10 properties from each search, and looked up their assessed valued on the CAD website. What I found further confirmed what I already knew. The more expensive the property, the lower percentage of actual value the assessments seem to be.

On average, the homes listed from $100,000 and up had assessed values at 90% of the list price, with the low being 67% and the high being 122%.

The homes with $300,000+ price tags were only assessed at 76% of their asking price, with the lowest being 54% and the highest being 96%.

Now, some may be wondering why this is so important. Consider this - if the more expensive homes were valued at the same percentage of the asking price of the $100,000 homes, the difference in taxable value would be $399,620. Think about it. That is an entire $400,000 home that is not being taxed at all. But here is the really interesting part - this is only for ten homes, that were found in succession on one website. No cherry-picking here.

Now extrapolate that over the entire neighborhoods of Country Club, Country Club Village, Woodway, Benchmark, Springwood, Kingwood Forest, etc. Think how much we could lower all of the tax rates if property were simply assessed correctly in Victoria County.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Tim by any other name is no Tim at all

Just when I thought cooler heads were prevailing, and all was returning to normal in the world of Victoria Higher education, Tim Hudson gets a new job. For those outside the reach of The Victoria Advocate, which will not possibly allow you not to know, Tim Hudson will be the new Vice Chancellor at Texas Tech University. While I am happy for anyone being presented with new and exciting opportunities, could we please gain some perspective? For crying out loud, could the worship be any more pronounced?

OK, I get it. Timmy is an important dude. He was the President of a very small University, within a not so large University System, for a relatively short amount of time. We got it. We all got it. Can we please move on now?

Or am I missing something? Is there some body of water in the Greater Victoria area that this man successfully walked across? If so, please don't let Denise Rangel know about it, or she will try to label it with historical status and dedicate thousands of acres around it as park property in perpetuity.

Maybe Timmy is the real reason God made Arizona. Maybe that country song was really about him, and both genders were speaking to and about him, because he carries such a universal appeal. Or maybe Michelangelo really painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in tribute to Timmy. Who knew? Michelangelo is probably rolling over in his grave that people today think that famous statue is of David. I can hear him screaming, "It's Timmy! Get it right!"

If you ask me, we should rename the Mona Lisa the Dr. Tim. I mean, how could anyone believe that anyone anywhere besides Timmy could have that smile? What about the Hudson Diamond? Now that is one precious rock.

But I digress. Enough of the funny stuff. Let's talk about the Good Doctor Timmy. I will not attempt to delve into the man's entire career, mostly because I don't care. But I will share with you what my limited experience was with the man. My ex-wife (while we were married) attended and graduated from UHV. And even though you may not believe it, I paid for every penny of that education. There were no grants or scholarships. We did it the old-fashioned way, with cold hard cash.

My first glimpse at what the Hudson Administration was all about was when my wife complained to me one day that she was going to have to commute to Katy twice a week for a night class. Immediately, I suspected that the class in question was some fringe elective that she had been putting off, and now she had put herself in a bad spot. To my surprise, I found out that it was a curriculum course that was part of her degree plan. Naturally this piqued my interest, so I inquired further. As it turned out, 14 students from the Victoria campus signed up for the class and 8 students from the Cinco Ranch campus had done the same. The professor for the course was from Victoria as well. This was a night class, which was going to put my wife and mother of three back in Victoria at around 11:00pm. Additionally, the course was not being considered for video conferencing, which is weird, because I just read that Timmy is super duper special at all that techie stuff.

So the wife went to the Dean, along with several of her classmates, and they voiced their concerns. According to what they were told at the time, the Dean agreed with them, but Timmy was adamant that the plan was set, and would not be changed. The Dean suggested they meet with The Tim personally, and bring more people. From what I remember, I think all 14 of the affected students eventually met with The Tim. It wasn't easy though, as the first 2 requests were denied. When they finally got in to see Tim the Magnificent, he was non-committal, but said he would see what he could do. After some serious perseverance, he finally caved and did what should have been done from the beginning. The class was ultimately taught in Victoria and video conferenced to Cinco Ranch. Too bad Timmy Terrific didn't just do the right thing from the beginning.

My next encounter with All Things Tim was when the wife was about to graduate, and I learned that her graduation was being held in Katy. My initial thought was, "Wait a minute, isn't the name of the school, The University of Houston - VICTORIA?" Had we been filling out the checks incorrectly? Completely miffed, I called UHV and asked to speak with Timmy Boy. He immediately wanted to know who I was, and refused to speak to me if I did not tell him. Yeah, like I care if you know who I am? I even spelled my name for the genius. Anyhow, so I let him know that while I was confused and a bit upset at the thought of having to drive to Katy to see my wife graduate from a University with the word VICTORIA in it, I would at least give him an opportunity to explain it to me. After an introduction to the situation that clearly conveyed to me the superiority that Tiny Tim had in the intellectual department with this backwoods hick, his explanation was as follows. He said UHV used to use Faith Family Church for their commencement ceremonies. OK, I knew that. Then he told me that FFC had increased the rent considerably for the event, and UHV would not be able to pay the tab. OK, I was with him so far. Then he lost me. He told me that UHV had campuses in Katy and Sugarland, and they needed to be included in the commencement process. Hold up there, professor. My question to him was whether or not those folks understood they were attending UH-VICTORIA when they enrolled? He said they did. I then explained that those folks made a conscious decision to attend UH-VICTORIA, and, unlike the students in VICTORIA, they had other options. At this point, The Tim Story is in full spin mode. He told me that the fall commencement was sizeable, and there were no other venues in Victoria to host the event. So I asked him where the spring commencement was held, already knowing the answer. Then I asked him another question that I already knew the answer to. That question was which ceremony was larger, the spring or fall?

At this point, I was wondering who this guy had duped in order to get his job. After becoming a little frustrated, I said "Do you even realize what you just said? Let me analogize it for you. Let's say I have 2 trees that I want removed from my yard, and you are in the tree removal business. One of the trees is 30 feet tall, and the other is 50 feet tall. After looking over both trees, you tell me that you can remove the 50 foot tree, but not the 30 foot tree. When I ask why you can't remove the smaller tree, your answer is that the shorter tree is too tall." Get it? At this point, I figured there would be nothing constructive coming from further conversation with Timmy Boy. What an ordeal. I am so glad it's over.

There is so much more to this story, but I will have to revisit it in another blog.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Does He Not Have a Mirror?

This blog is in response to a blog recently authored by Jared on the Victoria Advocate website. The topic of the blog was blogging. Jared points out some of the benefits to hosting a blog, as well as some inevitable drawbacks. Let me start out by saying I think Jared is truly genuine with what he writes. He has never shied away from a discussion with another, even though the viewpoints may not coincide. Because of this, I have absolutely no problem with his blog. I think Jared is truly interested in expanding the dialogue, even though it may sometimes run counter to his perceptions.

Where I began to have a problem was when Chris Cobler decided to make a few remarks on the blog. According to Peaches,"As we look for a new interactivity editor to replace CJ, we're hoping to find someone who can actively recruit more voices to the community conversation here."

Um....excuse me? The same guy that has been deleting the accounts of anyone who dares to buck the local establishment is now looking for "more voices" in the "community conversation"? That's a joke, right? The same guy who cannot handle any disagreement of any sort? The same guy who looks to silence all opposition to the local government apparatus? The same guy who deletes any comment from anyone who dares to mention the fact that his wife works for UHV? The same guy who deletes accounts of people that post comments that are against the A&M switch, but are completely factual?

This is the guy that now wants more inclusion? What is that smell? Is it excrement from a male bovine?

One of my favorite songs is one from Aaron Tippen, and I quote it often. There is a verse that states "We might've been better off, or owned a bigger house, if Daddy'd done more giving in or a little more backing down. But we always had plenty, just living his advice, 'Whatever you do today, you'll have to sleep with tonight.'"

Another way of putting it is that you don't want to have to do anything that would cause you not to be able to look yourself in the mirror.

Hence, I wonder if Peaches even has a mirror...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thank you, Dan Branch

Well, it appears as though Morrison's HB 2556 will not be considered by the Texas Legislature this session. Regardless of your stance on the issue, Representative Branch's decision to hold a meeting of all interested parties in Victoria has to please you. I always believe that open discussion is often the best cure for a festering problem. It is far easier to despise someone you don't have to see or talk to. This will be a great opportunity for all parties to express their concerns, and possibly be taken to task for spreading false information.

Since this entire ordeal began, I have repeatedly heard statements that either cannot be proven, or are just outright false. I keep hearing that A&M has an undeniable track record of growing universities in rural areas, which is not true. I keep hearing that A&M is a better "partner" for Victoria than UH, which cannot be proven. I keep hearing words like "destination university" and "accessible education", with no meaning attached to them. 

Hopefully this will be a REAL meeting, accompanied by a public hearing section. I want to hear the truth, straight from the horses' mouths. I want to know what A&M plans to do. I want to know what UH has to say. I want to know what both chancellors and the elected officials think of higher education cannibalism, and what sort of precedent they think this could set.

So let's have this meeting, and let's demand that it be for real, instead of some going through the motions spectacle. I can't wait to watch people like Pozzi, Patillo, Fowler, Burns, Polasek, Vivian, and Crew have to explain the propaganda they have been spreading. They should bear in mind that facts are stubborn things.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Call From The RPT

Some unfortunate soul drew the task of having to lob me a phone call this evening for the Republican Party of Texas and attempt to solicit funds. Apparently he was looking to renew my membership at a rate of $45, which is funny, because I don't recall ever having secured a membership before. This guy goes into one heck of a diatribe about how terrible Democrats are, and how the only force on this planet that can stop them from the complete destruction of the human species is the Republican Party. Once he had finished, I let him know that I regretted to inform him that I had no intention of cutting a check to any Republican organization any time in the near future, and my purpose was two fold.

First of all, my main focus was going to be on individual local races, which is completely understandable and appreciated by the RPT. The second reason was not quite as welcomed by the young gentleman on the other end of the line. I had to explain to him that I was done with the two party system, and in particular the left/right paradigm. 

Here's the deal.

I am sick and tired of being lied to. I am done with believing that Republicans mean what they say, any more than the Democrats do.

Think about some of the big political topics of the last couple of years:

Financial responsibility? You're kidding, right? After George W. Bush? Are you insane?

States rights? Uh, yeah, OK....When is this Republican-heavy State that believes so strongly in States rights going to actually have a State Legislature that can pass a resolution stating such? I sat right there in my Republican County Convention in 2010 and watched Geanie Morrison keep her seat when we voted on that plank of our platform. When is the State of Texas going to kick the BATFE out? Oh, that's right...Obamacare is the ONLY legislation that is unConstitutional. Try that on the idiots that believe it.

Or shall we talk about some old political hot topics that just never seem to go away?

Maybe, oh, I don't know....abortion? OK, that works. The Republicans always claim to be steadfastly opposed to abortion, right? If that is the case, then someone will have to explain to me why, for the six years starting in 2001, they did nothing about it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Republicans have the Presidency, the House, the Senate, and seven of the nine Supreme Court justices? Oh, I must be missing something....I guess only immigration laws can be challenged by States. Silly me.

Family values? Do we really even need to go there?

So basically what I told this poor guy is that the RPT needs to get their collective "you know what" together before they will ever see another dime from me. Call me irrational, but I am tired of being made a fool of.

The analogy I finally left the fellow with was that giving money to one party or another was akin to thanking one neighbor for not stealing near as much from me as another neighbor. They both steal from me, but the one who does it the least deserves my respect and thanks?

No thanks! Feel free to lose my number.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Government Power is a Bad Thing, ALWAYS!

Several years ago I came to the realization that any time the voters give the government more power, they will eventually end up regretting it. I used to be fooled by the idea that a powerful government was OK, just as long as "my guys" were in charge. Unfortunately, most people are still stuck in that matrix. Most people are still slaves to the left/right paradigm. Sadly, many still believe that Republicans are pro-gun and anti-abortion, and that Democrats are pro-working man and anti-war. Hopefully someday, those lost souls will reach at least a recognizable level of enlightenment and consciousness.

So why do I think that granting government more power is a bad thing? Because government and those who advocate for it will tell you whatever is necessary to gain the power, but will not follow through on any of the promises. Having learned this lesson, a few months back I decided to start asking a few questions and doing a little digging around about the origin of the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corporation.

The first thing I wanted to know was what the voters had in front of them when they made their decision "for" or "against" the 1/2 cent sales tax. Namely, what was on the ballot. Here is how it read:

Proposition No. 1
The adoption of an additional sales and use tax within the city at the rate of one half of one percent as authorized by Section 4B, Article 5190.6, V.T.C.S., as amended (the Development Corporation Act of 1979), with the proceeds thereof to be used and applied to the purposes authorized by the Act. La adopción de ventas adicionales y usar el impuesto dentro de la ciudad a razón de una mitad de un por ciento como autorizado por Sección 4B, Artículo 5190.6, V.T.C.S., como enmendó de (la Corporación del desarrollo Actúa de 1979), con los beneficioses que se emplear y aplicar a los propósitos autorizado por el Acto.

 Naturally, that leads to two questions...

1. Who in the world actually read Section 4B of the Development Corporation Act of 1979?
2. What does Section 4B say?

Whatever the answer to the first question is, it was definitely not enough. As for the second question, wonder no more:

Creation of Corporation; Texas Small Business Industrial
Development Corporation
Sec. 4. (b) There is hereby created the Texas Small Business Industrial Development Corporation which
shall act on behalf of the state to carry out the public purposes of this Act. The Texas Small
Business Industrial Development Corporation shall be considered to be a corporation within the
meaning of this Act, shall be organized and governed in accordance with the provisions of this
Act, and shall have all of the powers, and shall be subject to all of the limitations, provided for
corporations by this Act, except as otherwise provided by this section. For purposes of this Act,
the state shall be considered to be the unit under whose auspices the Texas Small Business
Industrial Development Corporation is created and the department shall be considered to be the
governing body. To the extent that the provisions of this section are inconsistent with other
provisions of this Act, the provisions of this section shall control as to the existence, powers,
limitations, organization, administration, operation, and affairs of the Texas Small Business Industrial Development Corporation.


Notice how many times the words "small" and "business" appear in succession just in this one section? Do you think this Act would have passed if the truth had been told - that it was a way to make big businesses a lot bigger? Who among us would consider Caterpillar a "small business"? Starting to see how the government lies to get what it wants? But wait, it gets better.

Once the idea was sprung, the City of Victoria had to act as though they were objectively considering the creation of such an entity, rather than licking their chops at the idea of a slush fund that very few would pay attention to. After all, who ever checks the sales tax rates in a given town before they decide to shop?

Once they had all their ducks in a row, the City issued a Statement of Position. I am not going to go over this document point by point, but I recommend reading it several times. With the knowledge of what has transpired over the past 15 years, some statements made in this document should raise your blood pressure just a little bit.

Then the City passed a resolution to place the measure on the ballot. An interesting excerpt from the resolution:

"WHEREAS state law allows cities to hold an election for the purpose of submitting to the voters a measure for adopting up to an additional one half of one percent sales and use tax for the purposes of funding a Development Corporation as authorized by Section 4B Article 5190 6 V T C S as amended the Act with the proceeds thereof to be used and applied to the purposes authorized by the Act including but not limited to public street traffic control drainage parks water and wastewater improvements and the maintenance and operating costs associated with such projects
WHEREAS the City Council finds that funding such projects as authorized by the Act through such a tax will be less costly to the City than deferring maintenance or issuing bonded indebtedness and
WHEREAS the City Council desires to hold any property tax increases to City residents to a minimum;"

Um, yeah, you are reading that correctly. Let it sink in just a moment. you may want to wrap your head with duct tape to keep it from exploding.

But this is not where the story ends. You see, corporations have these pesky little things called Articles of Incorporation. These Articles perform several functions, among them is spelling out the tax status of the corporation, along with any requirements and prohibitions that may affect said tax status.

The Articles of Incorporation for the Victoria Sales Tax Development Corporation say several things, including:

In accordance with the provisions of Section 501 c 3 of the United States Internal Revenue
Code the Corporation a shall not pay dividends and shall not permit any part of the net earnings
of the Corporation to inure to the benefit of any private individual except that reasonable
compensation may be paid for personal services rendered to or for the Corporation in effecting one or more of its purposes b shall not direct any of its activities to attempting to influence legislation
by propaganda or otherwise
c shall not participate in or intervene in including the publication or
distribution of statements any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office and
d shall not attempt to influence the outcome of any election for public office or carry on directly
or indirectly any voter registration drives"

That bold part is pretty interesting, considering recent developments, wouldn't you agree?

It goes on to state "No part of the Corporation s income shall inure to the benefit of any private interest. No dividends shall ever be paid by the Corporation and no part of the Corporation s net earnings
remaining after payment of its expenses shall be distributed to or inure to the benefit of the director
or officers or any individual firm corporation or association other than the City of Victoria."

This statement would appear to me to be a prohibition against the expenditure that is transferred every single year to VEDC. VEDC is a corporation, right? And they are not the City of Victoria, right? OK, just wanted to make sure.

Just to recap:

Idea to get more of the public's money - CHECK!

Sell only the most palatable portions of the law - CHECK!

Make people think they will actually be saving money by allowing an additional tax - CHECK!

Make people think that someone else is paying for the additional tax - CHECK!

Annihilate all opposition by calling their concerns and reservations stupid and stone age - CHECK!

Get the local propaganda machine (aka The Victoria Advocate) to sell this beast to the serfs - We will explore that in a later blog...

The moral of this story is that the government is not to be trusted. I was once told by a man that whenever an agent of the government speaks, ask yourself this question - How does the government benefit if I believe what I am being told?

That is good advice, considering it is impossible to un-ring that bell.

Friday, April 1, 2011

VEDC and Chamber of Commerce: We got a man down!

Well, It appears as though the first readings are registering on the Geiger Counter Victoria from Mayor Will's nuclear warfare. In an interesting turn of events, UHV has decided to suspend their memberships in both the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and VEDC. This may not seem like much, but it could turn into something more. I have to hand it Don Smith. He did the right thing, and he did it with grace and integrity.

But as in most things, I tend to want to use this as an opportunity to discuss an aspect of VEDC that has been puzzling me for some time. According to VEDC's website, they have 74 voting members. I was thinking about breaking them down by category, but I think I will save that for a future blog. What I would like to focus on are just a few of their members, namely those that are government agencies. VISD, The Victoria College, and Citizens Medical Center are all voting members of VEDC. My thought is, Why? Why are these entities, two of which have direct taxing authority, helping fund an agency whose purpose it is to attract business? I am sure someone will comment on this blog, explaining how all things are interrelated, the leg bone is connected to the knee bone, synergy, strategic partnership, blah, blah, blah. You can save it. I have heard it all before.

Let me tell you what I think about it. I think it is just another way of taking public dollars and funneling them through a private agency, whose disclosure standards are nowhere near as stringent. I think it is more manipulation by those who believe in an unholy alliance between government and business.

In the past, I have referred to VEDC as the Victoria Economic DESTRUCTION Corporation. While I still think that title is appropriate, not to mention that it is acronymically correct, perhaps a more perfect name would by the Victoria Government Development Corporation.

I will go further into detail in Part 2. Stay tuned.