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NIP ..;”5,1,r;;’;;,. :I! , c Coupled with the election last spring of a new city council that includes a third minority member, some community activists are tempted to believe that the tax reform program brings with it a definite whiff of democracy for a city known far and wide for its boardroom-style government. “It’s high time,” observed Charlie Young, the drawling but deft leader of the Bois D’arc Patriots, one of the community groups that provided resources, data and street savvy for the Taxpayer’s League’s tax-equality movement. What earned the support of the Patriots and other ‘neighborhood/ pocketbook interest groups, Young says, was the fact that the League’s demands, which later became the city’s program, “will bring direct and immediate relief’ by altering the 1980 tax rolls as new valuations are set. City officials simply hope the tax reform plan is enough to sidetrack a Jarvis-type group known as the TEA gathered enough petition signatures to force a tax-cut referendum this month referendum would mandate an acrossthe-board reduction in the city’s tax rate, from 56.6 to 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, and put a 5 percent limit on annual increases or decreases in taxes on each parcel of property. The tax-rate cut would subtract an estimated $39.35 million from the city’s projected budget of $325.45 million, or about 16 percent. The loss in services would be immediate, dramatic and, says Young, devastating to those in the poorer sections of the city” who already receive minimum services for their city tax dollars. “The nearest equivalent I can think of for the TEA Party people are the Know-Nothings,” says Young. “They want their tax bills reduced, without regard to services that will be lost or to current inequities in the tax system. And their proposal freezes the inequities in, by locking in a five percent increase. If you find a company that should be paying ten or fifteen percent more in taxes, you can’t put it on the rolls under their plan.” The amount of taxes paid by business owners in Dallas played a significant role in the property tax soap opera that has taken shape here. After eight years and about $5 million in municipal expenses, the city tax office gave birth last spring to what it called an equalization program that was supposed to bring all property up to full market value. But homeowners in North and East Dallas were shocked by the increase in their tax notices and demanded an accounting of all assessments. City Manager George Schrader and tax director Max Noller defended the new assessments, but the Times Herald revealed what the homeowners had suspected all along: their homes were being assessed at 400 per cent but businesses were getting away with monetary murder. Business property assessments were based on largely unchecked inventories submitted by the owners. Many businesses were dragging their feet in complying with the inventory reports and a city statute calling for $200-a-day criminal penalties for late reporting was never invoked. Some businesses were even supplying the city tax collectors with one set of figures and the school district’s tax office with another. An alarmed City Council hired some independent auditors to look at the business firms’ reports and, in a less than exhaustive search, found more than $1 billion in personal property owned by businesses that had not been reported. The auditors never even got around to the nearly 40,000 smaller businesses whose holdings make up more than half of the $5.3 billion in business property inventory now recorded. Noller’s juggling of assessments, for some reason, always ended up favoring big business, but the taxpayers’ organizations had already gotten the message: if anyone at City Hall did anything about high taxes, it was going to have to begin at the grassroots. ep em w i e Bregy fu evi 6 JANUARY 16, 1981