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By Jeff Parish
Over the next couple of weeks, taxpayers will have several opportunities to voice their opinions about proposed tax increases.
A public hearing on Paris Independent School District’s proposed 3-cent tax increase is on the agenda when the school board meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the administration building at 1920 Clarksville. The school district says the increase is necessary to continue to pay debt.
Lamar County has proposed a 4-cent increase. The budget is on the agenda for a special session of the Commissioners Court at the courthouse Monday, although the county’s tax hearings are set for 9 a.m. on Aug. 27 and 31 with a final hearing at 5 p.m. Sept. 14. Commissioners have proposed the increase to meet rising costs, especially health insurance for employees.
Paris residents rarely have much patience with taxes, Paris Economic Development Corp. Director Steve Gilbert said.
“Price increases for many things like fuel, food and consumer products are all straining the pocket books of families. Higher taxes do not help this financial strain,” he said. “Obviously, if people have less money in their pockets, then they can’t spend it in our local economy to buy groceries, go to movies, buy a car, etc. Likewise, if companies have less capital to spend, it constrains their growth.”
The proposed tax hikes are not universally supported even on the respective boards. On the Commissioners Court, County Judge Chuck Superville voted against the tax rate, although commissioners indicated the adopted rate may be less than what was proposed. Once a tax rate is officially voted on, it can be lowered but not increased.
PISD Trustee Jenny Wilson said during a recent board meeting the district needs to focus on increasing business and building its tax base rather than simply raising the rate.
“We have the highest tax rate of any district in this area,” she said. “That’s why all the businesses are located outside our district.”
PISD faces some major financial challenges, Gilbert said. For one, the state’s funding system is overly complicated. Also, the nature of Paris’ tax base doesn’t help. It is considered a “property poor” district, where even a higher tax rate doesn’t generate the same income as a “property rich” district with a a lower rate.
“We all want good schools and we all are supportive of our children,” he said. “Opposition to a tax increase does not mean we are against the school district or that we don’t want the best for our children and their education.”
It’s not just a business matter, either. In the PISD board meeting, Wilson said real estate agents sometimes have a hard time making a sale within the district because of the tax rate.
Paris ISD is an open district, local Realtor Jim Bell said, while North Lamar is closed. Which means to go to school in NLISD, you have to live there, but for Paris, students can live elsewhere. So why not build in one district and send students to the other?
“When you are the highest tax rate in the immediate area, and you want to increase the expenses for the consumers in that area, expect them to move to cheaper areas,” Bell said. “NLISD is going down. PISD is going up. The city of Paris is level and may go down a small amount. Now the county is going up. You can price yourself out of the market, any market.”
PEDC works hard to create a pro-business environment in Lamar County, Gilbert said. Businesses – both those already hear as well as those PEDC tries to bring here – are just as cost sensitive as the people who live here. They seek tax abatements from the city, county and Paris Junior College wherever possible. State law doesn’t allow for districts to abate taxes.
“This tells me that when we are trying to bring new investment and new jobs into Paris, the companies we are pursuing are very sensitive to our local tax rates,” Gilbert said. “From a business and economic development perspective, the lower we can keep our taxes, the better. This is true for residential tax payers as well.”
One thing most businesses focus on is efficiency of operations and improving their processes, eliminating waste, overlap and duplication, Gilbert said. There are many local experts in the methods used to make those changes, such as Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Value Stream Mapping.
Such techniques can apply to any type of operation, including schools, government, non-profits and health care.
“They are structured process-driven practices used by business and industry to improve their operations, cut costs and increase efficiency,” he said. “I would be happy to facilitate conversations with these type of experts and the PISD leadership team to do some training and maybe pilot a project to see what can be done.”