Council, Biedermann spar on bills
Fredericksburg City Council and staff met with District 73 State Representative Kyle Biedermann with sometimes testy exchanges on Monday about the state control over local issues.
Top issues included revenue caps, annexation, short-term rentals, city infrastructure and priorities.
Disagreements surfaced between Biedermann and city staff on how to address concerns while helping local municipalities, as Biedermann had voiced support for bills that limit local control.
Senate Bill 2 is a property tax bill that would require an election if a local taxing entity wanted to increase its tax collections by five percent or more. The current cap to trigger a rollback election is eight percent.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick touted the bill as tax savings, but local municipalities feel it is prohibiting.
“Let’s take the example of the fire department,” City Manager Kent Myers said. “Over the past few years, we’ve added a full-time fire chief, added fire fighters and paramedics; we’ve consolidated fire and EMS. We wouldn’t be able to do a lot of this if the caps were in place.”
Biedermann said a big reason for the bill is to try and reduce government power, but local officials don’t agree with it.
“It’s not letting us do our job,” Fredericksburg Mayor Linda Langerhans said. “You’re making these generic rules for all the communities and sizes of government — telling us how we should do things, instead of allowing us to do what works in our community. The legislature is not showing any faith in us. The main problem is state-government interference in the local communities.”
Biedermann agreed that there is a need for local control, but that there’s a lot more going on in the bill.
“I don’t have the answer necessarily, but I have some ideas. It’s unfortunate we have a legislature that doesn’t want to deal with long-term problems. For 30 years, they have kicked school funding down the road,” Biedermann said. “We need to be on the same page: I don’t want to be saying something different than the city and county. It seems to be us against them, but I don’t want it to be that way.”
Councilman Bobby Watson said Biedermann should vote against the bill.
“If you wanted true property tax reform you should vote against this and state that the real issue is school finance, and address the problem, and don’t deal with something that’s short term,” Watson said.
In the end, Biedermann said he’s going to vote for the bill.
“We have got to start slowing down the growth of government,” Biedermann said. “I’ve got 100,000 constituents that want this passed. And I’m going to work for a true property tax reform. I believe we need to move to a consumption tax. We need to spread the tax base out, and not rely just on property owners.”
At one point, Biedermann asked Langerhans, “Would you please stop interrupting me?”
“No, I won’t,” Langerhans said. “Because we’re trying to move this thing along and you keep saying the same thing about how wonderful you are.”
Another bill discussed, SB 715, deals with annexation. State legislators say the bill is meant to give Texas homeowners a say when a city wants to include their land within its borders.
“The property bill considered in special session would require approval of the majority of property owners in an area that’s being annexed,” Myers said. “Either through petition or election.”
Biedermann said the bill, which is being written for cities “500,000 people and up,” is meant to give citizens more control.
“It should be up to the people to decide if they want to be annexed,” Biedermann said. “That’s what the bill’s all about. The city shouldn’t be allowed to annex someone’s land. In the bill, it’s 500,000 population, that’s because the biggest abusers of annexation aren’t small cities.”
The city is concerned that the bill will prohibit annexing gateway communities, such as the proposed hotel/conference center on the west side of town.
“We want to be proactive on these things but this bill won’t allow us to do that,” Myers said. “We want to get ahead of this, so when that investor comes in and puts $70 million into this community, they aren’t going to have to worry about a mobile home park or a junk yard going up on the next lot.”
Watson agreed with Myers, saying the bill slows local government.
“This limits our ability to govern and we’re the most local level, we hear more than you do,” Watson said.
Understanding eventually came between Biedermann and the city, but he still stood by his reasoning.
“Those bills are important because the growth in government is huge,” Biedermann said. “This is a vote for the people. Give them a vote, it’s their property, that’s all we’re saying. We’re not stopping you.”
“It’s nice to be grateful, but I’d also like to have a representative that would vote what our needs are,” Watson said.
Myers brought up the growing number of short-term rentals and bed and breakfasts that exist in the area.
“We’ve had 35 complaints over the past two months on short-term rentals regarding garbage, noise, parking and zoning violations,” Myers said. “We’d ask that you support us on opposing any bill that would reduce local authority to deal with short-term rentals.”
Biedermann agreed that property owners who live in an area do have rights, but so do new owners.
“We should allow private property rights, but we need to have some restrictions,” Biedermann said. “I agree, but there needs to be a balance.”
Myers said the state shouldn’t ever get involved.
“These are local issues that the legislature shouldn’t even be discussing,” Myers said. “We ought to have the authority to deal with these on a local basis.”
Biedermann said he helped kill a prior bill that limited control over short-term rentals (sold as private property rights) because he wants to give cities oversight.
“If you communicate with me, I will talk to you and I will do something, or I will tell you the truth on how I feel,” Biedermann said.
City staff discussed the proposed relief route and the expansion to the Oakcrest Sports Park.
Biedermann said infrastructure is greatly needed, and priorities should be up to the citizens.
“Our number one priority is for government in general, which deals with safety, EMS, fire, roads and infrastructure,” Biedermann said. “We should focus on ‘what are the priorities for the city, what should be done first, and giving the voters a choice’.”
Councilman Charlie Kiehne said he hopes they can continue to progress with the needed projects.
“This community works together, although we may not always see eye to eye,” Kiehne said. “We always want what’s best for the citizens in our community.”
Biedermann agreed, saying he does want the best for citizens, but he’s not a people-pleaser.
“I would love to vote everything that you want me to vote, because that would make my life easier sitting here, but it won’t make my life easier sitting somewhere else,” Biedermann said. “I won’t be able to please everybody, but I will listen.”