I think all will agree is that the tornado is the 1000 lb. gorilla in the room. It's hard to review any recent events without the mention of the December 26 tornado. So, let's address it first.
I have been around tornadoes all my life. When I was a small lad, Coatsville, Indiana, was nearly eliminated from the map. Coatsville was a comfortable drive from my hometown. At that early age, I could not comprehend how the wind could create so much damage. Later in life, I was very close to the Topeka tornado. I had business in Topeka and lived only 30 miles away. The subdivision in which I did business was completely destroyed. I was part of a team to go in and rebuild. While viewing some of the damage in Topeka, I saw a house of the Swiss Avenue area type, picked up off it's foundation, turned upside down, and replaced upside down on it's foundation. The front door was upside down and 30 feet in the air. I have a witness. My soon to be wife was with me. I have respect for tornadoes.
The Rowlett tornado missed me on the south and on the east by 200 yards. I saw the funnel and heard the intimidating sound. I heard the window glass being blown out of my house. Viewing damage the next day was staggering.
I need to write some things about our community's response to the tornado. Usually, I'm not very easy to impress. However, I am very impressed with surrounding communities that quickly sent help into Rowlett. We citizens of Rowlett owe all of the participating communities a great deal of gratitude. They sent help into Rowlett in the time it took to drive here. No meetings seemed to be necessary. Just GO!!
Furthermore, I must say Rowlett's "officialdom" responded to the call much better than I would have expected. I'm not really sure what I expected because I didn't expect a tornado with such damage. However, all our elected officials, City management and staff, first responders, and most impressively, our own citizens magnificently answered the call. Unfortunately, it will take years to fully recover.
The tornado and it's consequences seem to be the source of much of the conversation running around town today.
In my recent reviews of "stuff," I saw an old discussion coming back because of the tornado. The issue was the Senior Citizen Exemption of real estate taxes. Up until a couple of years ago, citizens over the age of 65 received a $67,000 exemption on their taxes and the city's portion of the ad valorem taxes was fixed......never to rise again. A couple of years ago, the exemption was changed to $30,000, but the ones already receiving the $67,000 exemption was "grandfathered." Their City of Rowlett tax bill was fixed.
I remember the discussions during the time the decreasing of the senior exemption was being discussed. I thought much of Rowlett's "officialdom" was taking the position the seniors were cheating the rest of the citizens on their tax bill. I remember constantly hearing the argument that the city was "losing" so much money each year because of the exemption. My take was a little different. You can't lose money you never had. It's a budgeting problem.
I have to tell a story. Many, many, years ago, I worked for a real estate appraisal company. I started with this company while a senior in college. I was working in Sedgwick County (Wichita), Kansas. Our job was very similar to the Dallas Appraisal District now. Our bosses were the County Commissioners. One of the things we were asked to do was a study on a proposed senior exemption. The question was, "Should it be done?" We researched a whole lot of data. Cutting through all the rhetoric, the simplified findings were: 1) The inflation rate of houses were rising at a average rate of about 5% a year. 2) A substantial number of seniors owned their homes without a mortgage, and generally had little debt, but had not much else saved up. 3) They looked to Social Security for most of their monthly income.
With housing values (therefore taxes) raising about 5% a year, and Social Security raising only about 1% a year, simple arithmetic said that seniors were going to be in pretty serious trouble in a few years without some tax relief. With utilities, insurance, and other normal living expenses going up also, keeping the pantry full could be a problem for many. Furthermore, with the average age at that time being approximately 72 years of age, the exempted house would only be subsidized for about 7 years. It was felt that the seniors had paid taxes for approximately 40 years and had paid for a modest exemption and a little relief. We recommended to the County Commissioners that they grant a senior exemption. We gave the Commissioners the facts a let them determine the amount after they studied their total budget needs.
I left the company shortly thereafter and moved to Texas. It was my understanding an exemption was granted, citing the reasons above. I do not remember the amount.
This issue came up again because of the tornado. The severely damaged houses will have their value decreased. Then, after the rebuild, the values will go back up. We must be certain that the exemptions on "grandfathered" tax ceilings remain intact. It's my understanding there is a glitch in the system. It is apparently possible to increase a tax bill on a "grandfathered" home. If this possibility exists, it must be found out and corrected.
I do not buy into the argument that the seniors are not paying their share of taxes. In fact, I think they already have, plus any number of other things they have added to the community by just being here. In North Texas, we are particularly blessed with a very robust real estate market. Over the past two or three years a $200,000 house has increased about 9% to 10% each year......about $19K to $20K per year. It is nice, but it only enhances your balance sheet. You can't buy groceries with it. Last year, seniors didn't even get a raise in their Social Security payments because gasoline came down in cost. Of course, insurance, utilities, food, clothing, medicine and beer did. Now the average age is 77 years old. On the average, the senior's house would be granted an exemption for 11 years.
Rowlett gave the Village Apartments downtown a 15 year tax abatement.
Next will be some conversation on FEMA.