After cutting $6 million from the fiscal year 2017 budget, receiving a generous $10 million donation, and extracting $2.5 million from capital reserves, Midland ISD still faces a financial debacle and voted to place a tax increase election before local voters. However, instead of maximizing voter turnout by holding the election on November 8th, they opted for a special election on October 8th, 2016.
At the most recent MISD Board Meeting, trustees voted unanimously to increase the property tax rate from $1.04004 per $100 valuation to $1.09005 (per $100 valuation) – an increase large enough to require a public election, under state law. Yet while the tax rate increase doesn’t come as a surprise to residents, the trustees’ choice in the election date does.
Texas already has two uniform election days each year– one in May and the other in November. This allows for voters to plan ahead, carve out time in their schedule to head to the polls, and lessen the threat of “voter fatigue.” In other words, Texas’s uniform election days serve to generally accommodate voter participation and turnout.
District officials claim they chose to hold the election in October because they would like the focus of voters to be on the district’s Tax Ratification Election (TRE), not the presidential election. Yet, while campaign rhetoric by “Team Trump” and “Team Hillary” is sure to gain volume over the coming months, the board’s decision comes at a high cost both financially and politically.
The price of holding a lone-wolf election is typically more expensive than if the election was held in May or November. In this case, it will cost taxpayers $30,000-$50,000 more. That’s a hefty sum given MISD’s financial situation and an extra cost burden that could have otherwise been avoided.
In addition, holding an election on a non-uniform election day has historically resulted in relatively low voter turnout, and one where district employees and other tax increase supporters will make up a higher percentage of those voting.
A study done by the Texas Legislature found, “Current election law allows an exception to the uniform date requirement for school and college districts to hold elections to levy taxes or issue bonds. These elections are costly to taxpayers and often are not well publicized and have low voter turnout, which tends to restrict participation to those with a vested interest in approving the bonds.”
It’s easy to see why turnout will be higher in November with the presidential race on the ballot. Historic voting trends substantiate it. Taxpayers are left wondering if the decision to prematurely call for the election was intentionally made to downplay the tax increase.
MISD Trustees would have done residents a favor by sticking to the uniform election date. Would it have changed the results? No one can say with certainty. But it would have given the community peace of mind that – whatever the outcome – it would be a much more accurate representation of what residents truly want – not just those with a vested interest.
Early voting for the TRE will run September 21st through October 4th, with Election Day on October 8th.