Those seeking to challlenge the appraised values on their property have only a few days left to do so. Protests must be filed by no later than May 31st to object to the Dallas Central Appraisal District's valuation of your property. If today is any indication, a lot of Dallas County property owners were at the Appraisal District office disputing their appraised values for 2006. The wait to get to talk to a live person was expected to be an hour or more. Clearly, property owners are coming out in larger numbers to challenge the jacked-up appraised values by the non-elected Dallas Appraisal District board. Yesterday, a new homeowner was complaining to a good friend of mine that the District had appraised his home at $50,000 more than what he had paid for it earlier this year. The appraised value on a Mesquite rental house I own was increased by one-third for what appears to be no discernable reason other than the District thought they could get away with it. And, the folks at the Appraisal District do get away with it a lot of the time. A number of property owners fail to appeal these unfair increases; so the higher appraised values automatically go into effect. The appeal process itself is difficult to navigate and weighted in favor of the taxing authority and against the property owner (particularly the residential homeowner).
Nonetheless, a lot of Dallasites are angry enough this year to go down to the Central Appraisal District and seek relief from Dallas County's "stealth tax".
The Associated Press has a report on a new study on adolescent obesity. John Hopkins sociologist Richard Miech was the lead researcher. According to Miech, "today the percentage of adolescents 15 to 17 who are overweight is about 50% higher in poor as compared to non-poor families." This is a signficant change from the 1970s when about 4% of poor teenagers were "severely overweight" compared with about 5% of non-poor teens in the same category. The AP story points out that obesity rates "among all teens climbed substantially during the study, which covered thirty years."
The new issue of the Dallas Observer has a good story on how one of Sheriff Lupe Valdez's deputies made "nearly $175,000" over the past 24 months by working about 80 hours a week. Detention Service Officer Muriana Olugbode was the officer in question. Other officers also used the overtime system to rack up additional earnings in the Department, according to the Observer: "Ingar Singleton, Tadesse Bayessa and Solomon Desta averaged more than 60 hours a week, 50 weeks a year for the last 24 months, earning approximately $165,000, $127,000 and $134,000 respectively over that time frame."
The Sheriff's spokesman Don Peritz doesn't see a problem with any of this even though "Valdez's department is projected to spend $8.5 million in extra pay, $6.8 million more than budgeted," the Observer reports. It sounds as though there are some major management problems down at the Sheriff's department.
Texas emergency officials have turned to the private sector to increase the disaster preparedness of Texas counties. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, scannable ID-bracelets will be used to track people who use public transportation to evacuate threatened areas. The bracelets are meant to avoid the chaos that occurred in Louisiana when hurricane Katrina hit. Texas officials claim that they will be able to track evacuees wearing the bracelets with the state’s 2-1-1 system, which will involve the use of scanners at evacuation shelters.
Counties are also being urged to allow private vendors to bid on providing items such as food and energy in a disaster.
One day after Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, reportedly "bombed" in a Washington speech on energy at the National Press Club Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut announced that he was preparing to run for the Democratic nomination for President. The Financial Times reports today that Mrs. Clinton "faces intense scrutiny from within the Democratic party." Some Democratic leaders are worried that "she is such a polarising figure...that, they fear, she stands no chance of winning the general election. And still others worry about what could be called Clinton fatigue and a hesitancy to return to the scandals that plagued Mr. Clinton's tenure. The New York Times provided a reminder of that yesterday with a front-page story about the state of the Clinton marriage," reports the Financial Times.
Just last week, some key advisors to Al Gore talked up his prospective Presidency candidacy to the media. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner already is trying to position himself as a centrist alternative to Hillary who can win a general election while Sen. Russ Feingold is running on a campaign of opposition to the war in Iraq which Mrs. Clinton supports. The early maneuvering for the Democratic nomination is shaping up as one of who stands the best chance of knocking off Hillary Cllinton in the Democratic primary while showing a credible chance of winning the general election. Sen. Chris Dodd is the latest Democrat candidate for President who will try to make that argument.
The June 5th edition of Forbes magazine has an interesting story about the potential economic loss to ABC radio once the 87-year-old Paul Harvey departs from his ABC news and commentary show. Forbes cites statistics which show that Paul Harvey remains the number one talker on US radio with 15 million weekly listeners. The next ranking "talkers" include Rush Limbaugh at 13.75 million weekly listeners, Sean Hannity at 12.5 million, Michael Savage at 8 million, Dr. Laura Schlessinger at 7.75 million, and Laura Ingraham at 5 million weekly listeners. The sources for the fall 2005 figures are ABC Radio Networks and Talkers Magazine.
The Forbes story estimates that Paul Harvey has brought in close to $1 billion in revenue for ABC Radio Networks in the 55 years he has been with the network. According to Forbes, Harvey still is "at the studio, without fail, by 4:00 am." The Forbes story suggests that ex-Senator Fred Thompson may be waiting in the wings to replace this radio legand when Paul Harvey retires. But, at the moment, Paul Harvey shows no indication of stepping down from his national bully pulpit on ABC radio: "I'd retire, only I have never found anything else that I would rather do," says Harvey.
COUNTY VOTES TO REBID SECURITY CONTRACT by Brian Bodine
Dallas County jails will no longer be guarded by a security company that commissioners say has allowed a number of prisoners to escape over the past two years.
On Tuesday, commissioners decided to rebid a contract with Greer's Investigations and Security Inc. The contract is set to expire in October, though some commissioners supported terminating it immediately.
Commissioners and officials at the Sheriff’s Department have blamed Greer for many of the escapes, some of which involved prisoners escaping while receiving medical treatment at Parkland Memorial Hospital. In their vote on Tuesday, commissioners agreed to look at a few different options for guarding inmates.
“If there’s a private company out there, we need to find it as soon as possible,” said Commissioner Ken Mayfield. While the job of guarding the prisoners could be outsourced to an outside private company, it could also be done by the Sheriff’s Department. Mayfield said that he favored terminating the contract with Greer immediately and finding another private company to provide the service.
Commissioners also discussed the amount of overtime work being done by guards working for the Sheriff’s Department. Last week, Sheriff’s Department officials explained to commissioners the reasons for the overtime. Some of the overtime costs were due to Greer not being able to provide enough security personnel to guard the inmates.
Since October, close to $5 million has gone to overtime costs.
“I wasn’t impressed by what we got last Tuesday,” said Commissioner Ken Mayfield, indicating that he wasn’t pleased with the justification given to commissioners for the overtime pay.
Commissioners attributed the overtime pay to the increasing population at the county jails. Commissioners criticized the jailing of people that had committed crimes, such as criminal trespass, that could be punished through community service instead of jail time.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell held a news conference today criticizing lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry for passing $300 million in merit pay incentives for teachers. Bell would have liked to see the money go toward an across the board pay increase for all Texas teachers. Bell is calling for a $6,000 a year teacher pay raise.
Gov. Rick Perry has signed HB 2, the bill that dedicates the new revenue sources created in this special session to property tax relief and education. “I am proud today to sign legislation that protects Texans tax cuts for years to come, House Bill 2,” Perry said. “For too long, Texans have paid some of the highest property taxes in America, in spite of significant tax cuts authorized by the legislature in recent years. But that’s about to change. This time Texans will get both tax rate relief and tax rate reform.”
Perry signed the bill at the Waxahachie Civic Center, home of the bill's author, Rep. Jim Pitts (R). Later in the day, Perry will conduct a ceremonial signing in Houston, which is near the home of senate sponsor Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands).
So far, Perry has signed HB 2 and HB 3, leaving HB 1 (the school bill), HB 4 (liar's affidavit), and HB 5 (cigarette tax) as the remaining items of the Perry-Sharp tax plan still on the governor's desk. Last week, Perry signed a bill banning protests near funerals and has several other miscellaneous pieces of legislation on his desk.
The renowned DISD Arts Magnate School is the downtown Dallas Arts District will soon be on its way to becoming a reality. This Thursday the city’s arts community, students and DISD Superintended Michael Hinojosa will join in a formal groundbreaking ceremony for Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
The building will include a 168,000 foot addition with 41 teaching spaces including classrooms, performance areas, a performance hall and black box theatre. The total cost is expected to run to $47 million. It is being financed with $15 million in DISD bond money and $32 million in private funds. Of that amount about $25 million has been raised to date