Letter: Bartonville Finances: Where are we really and how did we get here?

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We’ve been hearing that our town can’t afford our own police department. We’ve been hearing that our town can’t afford to defend itself when a wealthy water company sues it three times. But is that really the case? Maybe we should take a closer look at where Bartonville finances really are.

For the first time since 2002, we have a new mayor who is charged with the responsibility to protect our town ordinances and lead our town’s future. When Mayor Bill Scherer took office in May, he inherited the financial, legislative and legal work done by former Mayor Ron Robertson, his Town Councils, his administration and even the previous town government of the late nineties. But what kind of town situation did Mayor Scherer really inherit and how did we get here?

Where Are We Really?

In the late nineties, Del Knowler served on the Town Council which passed legislation to pave the roads in Bartonville. An important piece of work we have all appreciated and enjoyed since. Mr. Knowler’s Council borrowed $2,000,000 to pay for the project by issuing bonds to be paid back $150,000 per year for 20 years and raised our taxes from 11 to 21 cents per hundred to cover the annual payment. Later, in response to increasing property evaluations in Bartonville, the 10 cent road tax went to 8 making our overall tax increase for the roads 11 to 19 cents per hundred.

Unfortunately, some of the paving jobs were not done very well. For example, the asphalt on part of Jeter Road was so thin that it was sometimes in danger of caving in. The town ended up with 5 year roads for a 20 year debt.

In addition, there was a serious split in Del Knowler’s Town Council and in the town of Bartonville around this time.

Del Knowler’s Council also approved the commercial development of Bartonville Town Center. While some of us in town desire no commercial development, others have enjoyed the picturesque center and the convenience it provides for shopping, restaurants and services.

In the early 2000’s, Tour 18 which was in Bartonville’s ETJ requested that they be annexed by Flower Mound instead of Bartonville. You may recall from our previous update that Bartonville is a “general law” town which cannot annex land within their ETJ without the majority of people in that area requesting to be annexed. Flower Mound, Bartonville and Tour 18 began negotiations which stalled and reached an impasse before Mayor Ron Robertson took office in 2002.

To summarize for a full picture of today’s town financial position…..When Ron Robertson was sworn in as Mayor, he inherited what Del Knowler’s Town Council had done as follows:

•    $2,000,000 road debt
•    tax rate of 19-21 cents per hundred
•    roads that already needed repairing
•    a divided town council and town
•    no revenue from Flower Mound Agreement
•    no revenue from 380 Lantana Corner Agreement
•    no police department
•    no official fire and emergency district
•    no cash profits to shore up town funds

When Bill Scherer was sworn in as Mayor, he inherited what Ron Robertson and his Town Councils had done as follows:

•    $0.00 debt
•    same tax rate Robertson inherited….19 cents per hundred
•    $1,600,000 tax dollars from Lantana Agreement from 2016-2020
•    $400,000+ tax dollars per year every year thereafter
•    $500,000 offer for Bartonville Store property currently on the table
•    $150,000 additional funds per year from Flower Mound Agreement
•    $150,000 per year previously paid to road debt now freed up to fund our own police department
•    $70,000 per year granted previously to pay fire district for fire and emergency services freed up to fund our own police department
•    our town’s own professional Police Department completely under our control developed almost to the point of 24/7 coverage before our police chief was forced into retirement
•    our town’s hard-won legal victory in the face of being sued three times by a wealthy water company until Scherer, Traylor and Marco voted just before the elections to settle the lawsuit the town had already won.
•    our town’s commendation by Texas Municipal League, a state wide organization, for protecting our town ordinances
•    Town Entrance which is so elegant that the statues of the horse family in front of our town sign have become a symbol for Bartonville which has been depicted in almost every article published in newspapers about our town since it was completed.
•    official fire and emergency district
•    Del Knowler still dividing town as he was doing when Robertson took office

How Did We Get Here?

As a successful businessman himself, Mayor Robertson began applying sound financial skills to our town finances from the outset. He refinanced the $2,000,000 road loan at a lower interest rate and increased our general fund by $150,000 in interest savings.

In spite of being criticized by CURE during the elections of spring 2013 for not spending money on roads, he and his administration spent over $2,613,000 on roads during the previous five years from 2007-2012 and part of 2013. While paying over $934,000 on the road loan, they were also able to complete more than $1,679,000 in road repairs…..$832,000 from the town and $847,000 from Denton Co. funds obtained by Town Administrator Debbie Millican and Council Member Carla Anderson. Please see the attachment for details on these street expenditures.

Robertson was able to negotiate another $150,000 per year for our town by reengaging Flower Mound and Tour 18 in discussions to reach what became known as the “Flower Mound Agreement” on behalf of our town. That brought us $150,000 per year for 15 years for land which we could never have annexed in the future. It is our understanding that this agreement began in 2006-2007 and will continue until 2021-2022.

When the opportunity to buy Lantana Gardens presented itself to the town, Robertson and his town council bought Lantana Gardens for $400,000 and sold it two years later for $750,000, making the town a PROFIT of $350,000. Later, when the realtor for the Bartonville Store called our town to offer the store property for sale, the mayor and town council negotiated the price from $500,000 down to $390,000 and paid cash. There is now an offer on the table to the current Town Council for that same property for $500,000. Through Robertson, our town was able to help one of our beloved long-time residents who was in a dire financial situation at the time. Our long-time neighbor and friend to many rarely misses the chance to give Mayor Robertson and our previous Town Council credit for saving him and his family from bankruptcy.

Through this kind of astute financial management, Mayor Robertson was able to set aside cash money to make additional payments on the road loan. He eventually paid the entire road loan off 6-7 years early with a final lump sum cash payment of $764,000, saving our town thousands of dollars in interest and making our town officially debt free. The tax increase of 8-10 cents per hundred which Del Knowler’s Council had implemented to pay the road payment of $150,000 per year was then freed up to contribute to the police department costs.

When we voted to create an official fire and emergency district and pay tax dollars directly to them for our fire and emergency services, our town no longer had to issue a grant of $70,000 to pay for these services on our behalf. Instead Mayor Robertson used that $70,000 to officially form our own professional police department in 2007. No longer would we have to wait an hour or more for one of the Sheriff’s deputies who were covering 700,000 to 800,000 people at any given time. No longer would we ha
ve to contract out our police protection to someone who has never been trained to provide professional police protection and who can stop anyone in town with nothing more than a magnetic sign attached to their door. No longer would the meth labs and the drug deals be allowed to continue in the more isolated areas of our rural community. No longer would our police officers be relative strangers to us. We started with one officer, our Police Chief Dave Howell and slowly built up over the next 7 years as revenue allowed to the point where we had our chief, four full time, one part time officer, and one court bailiff providing almost 24/7 coverage while spending much less of our town budget than Double Oak does. Double Oak spends 61% of their town budget on their police department and we were spending around 50% of our budget before one of our officers left in the face of unfair criticism from CURE’s inner circle and before the current Mayor and Town Council forced our police chief to retire. Prior to Bill Scherer becoming mayor, our police department, even at its largest, cost our town much less than Double Oak’s police cost theirs.

As discussed in our previous update which has now been acknowledged by CURE and the new Town Council, Mayor Robertson saw an opportunity in 2006 for our town to receive sales taxes on commercial property being developed outside our town and our ETJ. In what has become known as the 380 Lantana Corner Agreement, Mayor Robertson and his administration negotiated agreements which the Texas Comptroller’s Office calculated will bring our town almost $1,600,000 from 2016-2020 and over $400,000 every year thereafter. We will also share 50% sales tax on every alcoholic drink served in the center’s restaurants. Contrary to CURE’s previous analysis of this agreement, they have now acknowledged that the town DOES NOT PAY for the sewer system in the center.

Given the fact that Lantana Corner was going to be commercially developed whether we did an agreement to receive part of the sales tax revenue or not and given the fact that Bartonville had no control over what could be developed there because it was never part of our town or ETJ, we are confused as to why CURE continues to minimize this accomplishment for our town. In their most recent update CURE says, “The Lantana Town Center is now becoming a reality and there is little reason to belabor this fact. We now have to work with what we have and make the best of it.”

Have to work with and make the best of what? Millions of free dollars that our town was never supposed to receive in the first place? How hard is that? Our town will be given literally millions of dollars over the years from sales tax revenue on land which was not supposed to be in our tax base EVER. We could be in Copper Canyon’s position…..looking at commercial development along 407 where the Sonic, etc. has been developed anyway but receiving $0.00 tax dollars because they attempted to negotiate for property tax dollars on land that was never supposed to be in their town in the first place. It seems to us that this is more like an incredible financial opportunity given to our town by Mayor Robertson, his town council and administration through their astute financial perceptiveness to recognize a good thing when it is being offered than something to merely “work with and make the best of.” And contrary to CURE’s criticism that the second agreement addendum hadn’t been executed properly by the previous administration, it apparently had been executed enough that the developer did what the addendum called for…..brought the sewer to the four corners of the Bartonville Store corner as previously agreed. The developer did it; not the town. Where’s the appreciation for Robertson, his town council and town administrator’s service? Hopefully, the current mayor and town council can complete the few remaining addendum details in exchange for millions of free tax dollars over the years.

To further understand what Mayor Scherer inherited, it is important to note that during Mayor Robertson’s tenure, 0 acres of Bartonville land were approved for commercial development and only two subdivisions with large lots were approved…..Barrington Hills and Badminton Heights. Remember Lantana Corner was not in Bartonville and was being approved for commercial development in the Denton tax base regardless of what Robertson and his team did or did not do. CURE stated, “The previous administration had aspirations of having more commercial development in Bartonville. This is a little surprising as every citizen survey conducted indicated the majority did not want additional commercial development.” The fact is much more commercial development in Bartonville was approved when Del Knowler was on the Town Council than when Ron Robertson was involved in our town government, either as council member or mayor. Ron Robertson=0; Del Knowler=Bartonville Town Center.

Prior to CURE printing inaccurate information beginning in the spring of 2013 about Mayor Robertson, his Town Councils and their work, Mayor Robertson had united our town and ran unopposed for 10 years. After a year it has become clear that there were no back-room deals and no secret hidden unethical or illegal deals to be found as CURE implied in the spring of 2013. Since Del Knowler and CURE started publishing inaccurate information during that time which we continue to document in our NBCA updates, our town has become as divided as it was when Mr. Knowler was on the town council before. It is our hope that the current mayor and town council are beginning to recognize this and gather their own information outside of CURE’s biased updates.

To summarize, Robertson and his team carefully planned for the finances to support the expansion of our police department and complete the town’s defense in the lawsuits brought against us by a wealthy water company. They were aware that the town would be receiving the annual $150,000 payment from the Flower Mound Agreement simultaneously while the first $1,600,000 was coming from Lantana Corner to the town from 2016-2020. It is important to note again that Robertson had freed up another $150,000 PER YEAR in addition to the Flower Mound Agreement payment to be applied to the needed growth in our police department when he paid the enormous road loan off with lump sum cash. Add to that the $70,000 previously granted to the fire district but redirected to the police department and it seems to us that Robertson and his team thoroughly planned for funding our own 24/7 police department under Police Chief Howell to protect us and the new Lantana development. The final piece of the financial plan puzzle assembled by the Robertson team was the fact that “you can’t subsidize one part of the budget without subsidizing all of the budget.” Our town can access all $1,600,000 by using proper budgetary methods. For example, it is legal to issue grants from the Bartonville Community Development Corp. for police expenditures on capital investments like police cars, vest, guns, radios, etc. but not to pay contracts to Double Oak or the Denton Co. Sheriff’s office to farm out our police protection. Since all that equipment is needed for patrolling officers, who will be paying for that equipment when the Town Council eliminates our police department and gives control of our police protection to an outside agency?

A cursory glance at just this much information indicates as much as $690,000 possible funds per year for police protection and equipment that does not include the remaining budget funds or the additional funds that will come to our town from alcohol sold by the drink and sewer taps.

Finally, Mayor Scherer will inherit essentially the same tax rate Mayor Robertson did because Robertson and his team did not raise taxes during his 12 years of service in spite of paying an enormous debt off early and legally defending our town ordinances in FOUR lawsuits against our town. Our taxes were 19-21 cents per hundred when Robertson was sworn in and they were 19 cent
s per hundred the day Mayor Scherer was sworn in. Remember the town’s portion of your property taxes is quite small compared to school taxes or even county taxes. In addition, you will also see your fire and emergency district taxes on your property statement listed as a separate tax from the town.

In spite of never raising taxes and paying off major road debt, Mayor Robertson’s team also worked diligently and paid legal fees to prevent a gas compressor from being built in our town. They fought with every legislative and legal tool available to them to keep it out but were unable to do so in the end. They also continued their diligent legal work and paid legal fees to defend our town ordinances when Cross Timbers Water Supply sued our town THREE times to build an unneeded elevated water tower instead of ground storage tanks in our town. This time, our town won. We are a town of around 1,600 residents. Mayor Robertson and his team did our small town proud when they defended us against a huge gas company and a wealthy water company. They were recognized by “The Texas Municipal League” for their work in defending every Texas town’s right to uphold its town ordinances when they fought a water company which was flush with $6,000,000 in cash when they sued our town and hired a Houston Lobbyist to pass legislation in the middle of the night that would exempt them or any water company from having to be accountable to town governments for what they might build in every Texas town throughout the state.

Mayor Scherer and the new Town Council have inherited a town with an incredible financial position and future outlook. As we look at the summaries above, we are frankly taken aback by the amount of good work that was done. We want to take this opportunity to thank Mayor Robertson, our previous Town Councils, Town Administrator and Staff for their twelve years of service and doing work that made such a positive impact on our town. Mayor Robertson and our former Town Councils did this as unpaid volunteers who dedicated 12 years of their lives to improving our town. If Mayor Scherer and the current Town Council choose to continue tearing down what Mayor Robertson and his team built, they will do our town a great disservice. It is our hope that they are beginning to realize that Mr. Knowler’s information has always been biased and much of it has been inaccurate. Most of them ran on transparency and openness. We hope they will begin to fulfill those promises and stop making decisions in closed secret executive sessions without the benefit of hearing from anyone other than Mr. Knowler, his inner circle and a wealthy water company. There is a huge constituency out here who want to support them and their work but cannot do so in light of their unwillingness to act on and exchange information with someone other than CURE’s inner circle. We have documented facts for Mayor Scherer and his council to consider. A large and growing group of citizens already do. We hope our new mayor and town council will begin to objectively do so too.

Jane Teel
North Bartonville Citizens Association
Bartonville, TX

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