After four years of sagging receipts from sales taxes and flat or falling property values, fortunes seem finally to be turning for Gregg County’s taxing entities.
The first hint of that comes from the city of Longview, where sales tax receipts are up 7.5 percent and property values are expected to be about 0.5 percent higher than last year.
That means they are doing the happy dance at City Hall, where officials have cut so much from budgets the past four years that they are dangerously close to the bone in some areas. The coming year should give them the opportunity to take care of some projects that have been laid aside during recent tough times.
This doesn’t mean the city should go on a spending spree and we don’t think officials would ever think of doing so. Longview has always been a fiscally conservative city. Of course, for some, building streets and parks rates as runaway spending, so there will always be criticism from those types.
The truth is that Longview has always hewed closer to the line of spending too little money than too much. This is probably the best way to run a city and it certainly would be the way favored by most taxpayers.
That’s obvious from the successful record of incumbents at election time. This city is not the target of significant protests over runaway spending. When there are significant matters in city elections, spending usually is not one of them.
The same is certainly true at Gregg County, which has not raised taxes in years and has a large — some say overly large — reserve to fall back on in time of trouble. As taxes don’t rise the fund balance doesn’t bother us, and we’re sure the day is coming when we will be glad that money is there.
Texas tax law, particularly after the last legislative session, does not favor entities that need to raise a lot of money in a one-year jump. Maintaining a fund balance protects us against catastrophe.
The increase in sales tax receipts means that, after some years of struggle, a great many commercial businesses in East Texas are improving. But it is the half-percent rise in property values that is significant in the long term.
While property owners might feel the initial pain of increased tax payments, it’s because their overall property is worth more than before. It may be difficult to believe at tax time, but this is a positive development. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Good stewardship is important in dealing with public money and we have had that in tough times — and even when times haven’t been so tough.
We’re in a less difficult time now and happy officials can take a breather. Sooner than we wish, we know struggles will return. If we hold to our current path, though, we are confident our city and county will be ready.