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OUR VIEW: City’s crass grab for county bucks is ridiculous - Odessa American: Our Opinion

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OUR VIEW: City’s crass grab for county bucks is ridiculous

THE POINT: Come on! Does the City of Odessa really want to pick on a cash-strapped Ector County?

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Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2019 2:30 am

Today’s Odessa American contains an interesting article about a fight brewing between the City of Odessa and Ector County.

Actually it is likely more than brewing as it has been going on for months now. The city apparently wants to strong-arm the county into handing over some of the sales tax money that Ector County just started receiving this calendar year.

Seriously?

Let’s remind you that when Ector County made noises a few years ago about trying to get some of Medical Center Hospital’s sales tax money that we called the county on the carpet about it. That was wrong and this is wrong, as well.

Voters who live outside of Odessa but in Ector County were convinced to impose on themselves (that’s right…on themselves) a new sales tax that would be used for roads, law enforcement and code enforcement in those unincorporated areas.

Those were the items that residents told Ector County officials they wanted to see addressed and those are the items that county officials pledged to shore up.

They showed the need and residents of the county agreed and voted to approve the tax. Now the City of Odessa wants to swoop in and claim that Texas’ extraterritorial jurisdiction law somehow allows them to rob Ector County of what amounts to a tiny bit of sales tax compared to what the city already receives annually.

The law lets municipalities of more than 100,000 in population exert some control over property within five miles of their boundaries. For those under 100,000, the limit is 3 1/2 miles.

However, that authority is usually applied to questions of special utility districts and subdivisions so that future annexations are not hampered by unwanted developments. There doesn’t appear to be any language specifically relevant to sales tax collections.

So calling this a real stretch by the City of Odessa is accurate.

While we are at it, we say “attaboy” to County Attorney Dusty Gallivan who said he was notified of the city’s tax claim by Interim City Attorney Gary Landers before City Attorney Natasha Brooks was appointed last August and that he stringently opposes the cash-strapped county’s surrendering any of its revenues to the city, which already receives proceeds from property and sales taxes, as well as water and garbage service fees.

“I’m not aware if this has been exerted elsewhere in Texas, but I am absolutely certain that the rules and the law (in the voters’ November 2018 approval of the 1.25-cent tax) were followed,” Gallivan said. “I have no idea what claim they may think they have, but I suppose that if the city wants to try to circumvent the will of the voters, that is their option.”

Gallivan said he is ready to fight the city in court if a lawsuit is filed to take a percentage of the sales tax money.

Good for Gallivan. He’s absolutely right that the well-funded city doesn’t need to pilfer money from the county.

This is the same City of Odessa that is currently spending your tax dollars to delay the timely access to public information in police reports by requiring Freedom of Information requests to get the information that has been routinely handed over quickly previously.

This is the same City of Odessa that spent thousands and thousands of your tax dollars fighting the Odessa American in 2017 over open meeting violations. The city had to pay some of our legal fees and had to agree to keep audio recordings of all closed-door meetings instead of written summaries, making it easier for the public to hold the officials accountable in case of future open meetings violations.

This is the same City of Odessa that amended their budget for “supplemental requests” including these fun items we pulled out:

  • $200,000 for a building assessment and space study of their buildings.
  • $90,000 for a branding campaign for the city “to help spread positive information about the city and also help with the recruitment and retention of city employees.”
  • $4,500 for furniture for the assistant to the city manager.

Now, we aren’t saying the city shouldn’t spend this money. But, hey, if they have $90,000 for a branding campaign then why do they need to shake down poor Ector County?

Some think this may have more to do with Ector County officials not immediately agreeing to work on building a new courthouse in downtown Odessa, where city officials have spent millions of tax dollars in the last four years.

We don’t know what the wild reasoning is behind any of this because city officials are mostly towing the “we just want to know our options” line when asked what they are doing about the county sales tax money.

We don’t like it and you, the taxpayers, shouldn’t like it either.

Odessa, TX

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