OPINION COLUMNS

Frisco taxpayers send loud message with vote

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, September 3, 2016
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The eight high schools of Frisco ISD opened the new Star football stadium last Saturday with a day full of action, starting a new era of high school football in a state-of-the-art indoor facility.

It was a joint project between the Dallas Cowboys, city of Frisco and Frisco ISD.

But the collisions on the gridiron, tunes from the marching band and cheers from thousands of fans could not match the thunderous roar of a message delivered by Frisco ISD voters at the polls the same day.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

More than 11,000 voters – almost 1,500 more than the entire turnout for the May 2014 approval of a $775 million bond package in the district – turned out to shoot down a 13-cent tax hike. The 58 percent of voters against the rate increase to $1.59 triggered a rollback to the district’s previous rate of $1.46 per $100 evaluation.

The turnout alone – more than double that of the 2014 bond election – shows how emotionally charged the residents were on the issue and that many are ready to draw a line on the amount they can afford to pay in school taxes with skyrocketing property values.

In one of the nation’s hottest real estate markets, property values are soaring throughout the Metroplex. In Frisco ISD, the average market value grew from $333,547 to $365,463 – a growth of $31,916. After homestead exemptions, the average taxable value was $340,463, up from $308,547.

Just with the increase in values, Frisco homeowners will pay on average $466 more – $4,970 – to the schools. The 13-cent increase would have meant an increase of $908 – $5,413.

Remember, that’s just school taxes and doesn’t account for the taxes imposed by city, county and special districts.

Frisco voters weren’t the only ones to say no to tax rate increases last weekend. Marlin and Yantis voters shot down hikes. Fourteen other districts passed the tax-rate increases, including Aubrey, Mineral Wells and Sherman. Aubrey and Sherman planned to use the additional money from increasing the maintenance and operations rate from $1.04 to $1.17 and additional state money to buy down their debt service rates. The state provides additional revenue for levying taxes above the $1.04 maintenance and operations rate, but that must be voter approved.

The tax swap in the districts will limit the increases on property owners. But some will pay more in taxes with property value increases.

But the swap is not an option in all districts. With increased residential values due to market conditions and lower mineral values, more districts will be going to voters to approve tax increases.

While knowing the value of quality education, there is a breaking point, as Frisco voters stressed.

Annual mortgage increases of $500 or more on top of other growing expenses will not take long to price many in the middle class out. The help from recent legislation increasing homestead exemptions has already been discounted by the skyrocketing values.

Hopefully, the rumbling message from Frisco will be heard in Austin and trigger significant change in January by legislators to find a balance that properly funds schools and helps the ever-growing list of struggling property owners.

But that may be the same as wishing to complete a Hail Mary.

Richard Greene is the sports editor for the Messenger. He’s covered education and school finance extensively in multiple communities for 17 years.

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