Marble Falls citizen group seeking tax oversight

MARBLE FALLS — A near-30-percent tax increase approved Sept. 28 has a group of concerned residents demanding greater 

oversight on how the City Council spends taxpayer money.

Calling themselves the Concerned Citizens of Marble Falls, the group will hold its first meeting 2 p.m. Sunday at Bowles Insurance, 700 RR 1431.

Group co-founder Les Bowles said the focus is to keep Marble Falls residents informed on the council’s doings.

“Our goal is to educate the people only,” Bowles told The Daily Tribune. “We want people to know what’s going on before these things come about.”

Bowles and many other residents spoke out against the tax increase at a series of public hearings held before the rate was approved.

The hike raised the local property tax rate to 63 cents per $100 of property value. Officials say the rate is needed to pay for a $116 million capital improvement project that will build new roads, improve local water and wastewater infrastructure and add new public safety facilities.

Critics of the plan say some of the improvements aren’t needed, adding the higher tax rate — which tacks an additional $200 onto the average homeowner’s city tax bill — could be a budget-buster for some residents.

“The people went up there for three meetings in a row and poured their guts out, telling (the council) that they couldn’t afford this,” Bowles said. “The council just sat there with a poker face knowing how they would vote. That’s not public representation.”

Mayor Raymond Whitman  and the council have countered the CIP is needed to bring the city’s decades-old infrastructure up-to-date.

Though Bowles said the group isn’t opposed to the city’s growth, he did say some residents disapprove of the way their tax dollars are spent.

“We want to know what the city is spending in all areas, and we want a way to bridle their spending our money without a citizen vote,” he said. “This (the CIP) should have been a 100-percent voter-decided bond.”

Until recently, residents interested in the city’s business were a rare sight at council meetings. The council in September bemoaned the fact that few residents were on hand to speak up about the CIP during the more than six months of workshops and meetings leading up to the tax vote.

“Throughout this process, we’ve had 12 public meetings in six months, and nobody came,” Councilman Josh Parker said Sept. 28. “We need more of that public input.”

What’s more, the last two council elections have seen incumbents run for office with no opposition — including Whitman, who Bowles and other critics claim may be violating the city charter by serving a fourth consecutive term on the council.

Bowles said uncontested elections will likely change now that the group has been formed, adding members hope to encourage greater involvement in council elections without endorsing individual candidates.

“The single voice in the forest is not heard,” he said. “The only thing that can make the voice heard is numbers. People will recognize the fact that yes, we can do something about this. In the end, the people will rule.”

Sunday’s meeting, which Bowles hopes will attract at least 30 people, will focus on residents’ questions about the seven-year CIP.

City Manager Judy Miller said she’ll attend the meeting to provide what answers she can.

“Throughout my career, whatever government I’m involved in, I want it to be open and transparent,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Miller recently advised the council to form a CIP citizens’ committee. That group, which will consist of current members of the comprehensive plan steering committee, will analyze the plan and advise the council on how to move forward.

The group will begin its work in May, officials said.

In the meantime, Bowles said his group will continue to meet monthly.

“I think this group will be healthy,” he said. “It’s doing to be done from a positive standpoint. We’re not headhunting, there are just questions that we want answered. We’re not finding fault with what has been done unless fault lies there.”