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Denton residents' tax bill to increase by $48 on average under city budget proposal

The Denton City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on an increase to the general fund budget and the wage inflation rate, which would raise Denton residents’ average property tax bill by $48 over the next fiscal year.

Cassey Ogden, the city’s director of finance, said Thursday that the council directed her to move forward with a property tax rate of 57 cents per $100 valuation.

The city referred to that number as the wage inflation rate because it reflects a 3.1% increase, equivalent to the increase in total compensation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as of June 2021, according to budget presentation documents. It was among two options for the proposed tax rate for the next fiscal year.

“The wage inflation rate is a 3.1% increase on the [managing and operations] rate from the prior year,” Ogden said Thursday. “For the average residential tax bill, it’s a $48 increase over the next fiscal year compared to this current year. Because our utility rates are not increasing — we calculate kind of both of those together — your overall average is only up $18 because the average water bill is going to decrease. We net those out to get an $18 increase overall between tax and utilities, but the tax bill [alone increases] by $48 for the year.”

The general fund covers maintenance and operations for city departments such as public safety, libraries and parks. Its major revenue sources are sales and property taxes.

Although council members were divided on picking between the wage inflation rate over the no-new-revenue rate of 56 cents per $100 valuation — the second tax rate option — there was enough consensus to move forward with the wage inflation rate.

Ogden said the no-new-revenue rate would have brought in the same amount of revenue from taxes in 2020.

“It’s the tax rate that results in the same amount of revenue from existing property as the prior years,” she said. “So we would basically just be calculating the same amount of revenue from the previous year. However, the impact to the overall tax bill would still be the same because the property values have increased.”

General fund budget revenue is expected to be about $151 million with the wage inflation rate — about $1 million more than it would be with the no-new-revenue rate. However, no plans have been announced for where that $1 million would go.

Vicki Byrd, the council member for District 1, said at the meeting Tuesday that she’s in favor of the wage inflation rate because the city may need the additional revenue for an emergency.

“We want to be prepared,” Byrd said. “I don’t want to risk the city having to wait on anything if we need to take care of something in the future. Having funds is like a savings account. It’s an emergency-type situation. We need to make sure that we can have something that we can touch bases on.”

District 3 council member Jesse Davis said he favored the no-new-revenue rate because it’s smart budgeting.

“This [presentation] slide shows very clearly that the purpose of raising taxes in that way [the wage inflation rate] would be to keep nearly a million more dollars of taxpayer money for a fund that, as of yet, has no concrete goals and does not have a work plan,” Davis said. “At this point, I can’t justify raising taxes for an additional infusion of cash to a program that does not yet exist.”

The rate also leaves about $3.6 million left of available funding, which isn’t counting expenses for supplemental requests.

The core scientific revenue is also a new add-on to the budget. The estimated amount of revenue is about $1.9 million, but city staff noted in the presentation that they’re estimating the general fund will actually receive $1.5 million.

“The impact is it would bring in more money to the general fund, but the main component is for the electric fund,” Ogden said.

Council members also are expected to vote on supplemental requests in the general fund. Most of the requests are to fill full-time positions in city departments, including eight in the Denton Police Department (about $1 million, with two positions funded through the American Rescue Plan), one for the Fire Department ($95,000, also funded through the ARP) and six new employees for the Parks and Recreation Department ($259,965).

They came to Texas for the big houses and barbecue — they also got new laws on abortion, guns and voting

There was a lot to like in Austin when Kevin Longley moved there a month and a half ago from Maryland’s Montgomery County. His wife had gotten a promotion at her tech company, and their new city already had a solid reputation as a less expensive, more chill Silicon Valley. They bought a 3,000-square foot, five-bedroom house, far bigger than what they could afford outside of D.C. There were breakfast tacos, and amazing barbecue, and weekend day trips to nearby lakes with their 5-year-old daughter.

And then. In July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning government entities, including public schools, from requiring masks or vaccination (the Texas Supreme Court denied his request last month), despite the state’s rising death toll: More than 6,000 Texans have died of COVID-19 in the past month. On Sept. 1, legislation allowing Texans to carry a handgun in public without a permit or the background check and training the state previously required went into effect. The same day, the Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law that banned abortions beginning at six weeks of pregnancy, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. (The Justice Department has sued Texas to challenge the law.) On Sept. 7, Abbott signed into law a bill that creates strict new voting rules in the state.

For newly minted Texans who had emigrated from bluer pastures, even just one of these laws would be a lot to take. And now, all of them, within two months?

“It’s hard to believe that some of these laws actually exist,” says Longley. “And then you look around and you’re like, ‘Oh. Wait. That’s our state. That’s where we live.’”

From the depths of the pandemic Texas beckoned, with its spacious, affordable four-bedroom homes with yards and swimming pools, big-city amenities, quirky charm and excellent food scene. The 2021 Texas Relocation Report from Texas Realtors found that more than half a million people relocated to Texas from other states in 2019, the latest year for which data was available. Many Texans have noticed an influx from California in particular — some are even commuting between the two states — and William Fulton, the director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, broke it down further in a blog post: In 2018 and 2019, a little over 80,000 Californians became Texans.

Many of them followed their tech jobs. Apple, Facebook and Google have satellite offices in Austin. Oracle announced in December that it was moving to Austin, too (though founder Larry Ellison would not: He moved to Hawaii). Hewlett-Packard announced last year that it would move its headquarters from San Jose to Spring, a suburb of Houston. Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk, moved to Austin last year, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told CNBC that he talks “frequently” with the tech billionaire.

“Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas,” said Abbott.

“In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness. That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics,” Musk tweeted in response. (A representative for SpaceX, one of Musk’s companies, did not respond to an inquiry about which social policies in Texas Musk does or does not support.)

The celebrities have come too, in droves, mostly to Austin: Westworld star James Marsden, Girl, Wash Your Face author and motivational speaker Rachel Hollis, controversy-courting podcaster Joe Rogan, who recently fell ill with COVID-19. Dawson’s Creek star James Van Der Beek, his wife, and five children posed for a spread in Austin Life magazine on their new ranch (“I felt an energy to Austin,” the star said). Actresses Haylie Duff, Becca Tobin and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who had formed a pandemic pod together, moved their families to Austin as a unit. (“You don’t pay for parking anywhere,” Tobin marveled to The New York Times.) Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness was filming a season of his show in Austin, and liked it so much that he and his husband decided to stay. (“I had my four cats and was on this lake at an Airbnb, and I was like, Do I love Austin? Is this a liberal bastion in Texas? And it kind of is,” he told Self magazine.)

Really, the state solved problems for expats from both political poles. For conservatives, it was a place where they could put their kids back in schools without mask mandates, and own guns and not have to pay state income taxes. For liberals, it — well, Austin, specifically — was a city of abundant tech jobs, relief from the Bay Area housing market and brimming with like-minded voters. The blueberry in a cherry pie, as an apocryphal Texas adage goes.

“The pandemic lockdown put a lot into perspective for me,” says Lexx Miller, 27, who moved from Brooklyn to Austin. “I was getting older and wanted a change in scenery, people and quality of life, but I still wanted to feel like I was in a major city.”

For Brian Harden, 47, of Seattle, it was the taxes that made him consider moving to Texas. “They don’t have a state income tax,” he noted. Besides, “My wife and I are both gun owners, and we’re big Second Amendment advocates.”

But everything’s bigger in Texas, including the regrets. They set in immediately for Tanny Martin, 66, a retired nurse who moved from Massachusetts to Austin last year to be closer to her son and enjoy a lower cost of living. A self-described “blue-state person,” and “aging hippie,” she had rationalized it by reminding herself that she would be moving to a liberal city.

It’s “the part of the state where people have purple hair, and that’s comforting,” she says. “But there’s also three-percenters here and, you know, secessionists, and I mean, it’s still Texas.”

The new gun law is the most terrifying part of her new home to her. Between that and the threat of COVID, “I’m not going out very much because I don’t really feel safe,” she says.

That makes it hard for newcomers to make friends, too.

“It definitely feels very isolating when you just move here. You want to go see all the sights and meet new people and nobody’s going anywhere,” says Kyle Miller, 27, who moved to Austin from the Dayton, Ohio, area (and isn’t related to Lexx Miller). Seeing all the maskless people out and about, he says, was “very weird.”

And yet the state exerts a powerful lure, packed with its own outsize mythology, swaggering style and the promise that life will be a little different there.

That’s what Bill Ross, 63, loves about it. When Ross moved from California, “I got nine-milimeters for each member of the family,” he says. “I went out and bought an AR-15, and I think it’s a very healthy thing.”

Guns weren’t the primary reason for his move. He took his family to Boerne — pronounced “Bernie,” it’s one of the Hill Country’s towns with German heritage — after he became dissatisfied with his son’s middle school in his Los Gatos, California, community, as well as the state’s fiscal and political trajectory. His one regret in leaving California, he says, was that he would not be able to vote to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. He says Abbott is doing a fine job. He supports the state’s new voting laws.

“I don’t think they’re extreme. I think they make a lot of sense,” he says. “I think that if you can’t control voting, you can’t control the protection of the Constitution.”

The abortion law gives him pause, though: “I don’t know if six weeks is the right thing,” he says. “I’m pro-choice. I’m not happy with how abortion is used as a method of birth control.”

But Ross is thrilled with his new life in Texas. He no longer has to worry about California wildfires. He sold his house for well over its asking price over the summer and was able to buy one outside of San Antonio nearly three times its size, at about a third of the cost. Plus, it has a pool. He loves his neighbors, who have been “very welcoming.”

“Whenever people would ask, ‘Well, where are you from?’ we’d cower and say, ‘California,’” he says, “And then immediately say, ‘But you picked up conservative voters!’ “

The liberal-leaning new Texans have felt welcomed by their new neighbors, too. It’s the people they left behind that have been giving them guff.

“I chose just the worst possible time to move down here,” says Kyle Miller. In the wake of the abortion law, his friends have been posting anti-Texas memes.

“My friend took it down already, it seems, but there was one [meme] which was like, an outline of Texas, and it was just labeled ‘Dumba**istan,” says Kyle Miller. Another, tweeted by @sundae_gurl2 and several others: “The single star on Texas’ flag is actually a review.”

The culture shocks haven’t all been political, though. Miller, who delivers food for DoorDash, had to adjust to the city traffic and the abundance of scooter riders, who can be reckless around cars. Lexx Miller was taken aback the first time she saw employees in stores wearing buttons that said “mask-exempt.” Ross was impressed by how much better the roads were than in California. And Longley was pleasantly surprised that people in Texas talk about things other than politics.

“When you’re in that D.C. bubble, it seems like just everything’s on high alert in terms of political news all the time,” he says. “It weighs down my psyche.” But maybe not talking about politics enough is part of what got the state to where it is now.

The left-leaning voters see a silver lining to the latest political turmoil: Now that they live here, they can work to correct its course.

“I definitely see myself going out and voting and trying to reverse a lot of these laws that just got passed,” says Kyle Miller. “I don’t know how long that fight is going to be or how successful it’s going to be.”

In Maryland, “Your vote is kind of like a drop in the bucket,” says Longley. “Out here, you know that your vote really matters.”

Still, as much as they might lament their timing, the new Texans are mostly glad they made their moves. Lexx Miller doesn’t see herself as a lifelong Texas resident, but she doesn’t have any regrets: “As a minority, there are few places where I can feel completely safe in America anyway,” she says. “My quality of life here is better.”

Not for everyone. Abbott’s handling of COVID gave Harden, the Seattle gun owner, a pause. But he finally abandoned his plans to move to Texas after the abortion law came out and his wife vetoed the move: “That was the nail in the coffin.”

Now, he says, “We’re toying with possibly Tennessee.”

Thistle Creative Reuse education director Heather Hoskins, center, leads a workshop on creating a “junk journal” at Armadillo Ale Works on Thursday evening. Participants learned how to take discarded material and turn it into a journal.

Denton High pep rally back on after reported social media threats
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Denton High School’s Thursday “Purple Out” pep rally happened after all after campus administrators and Denton police determined earlier reported threats were false.

Principal Joel Hays told parents via email Thursday morning the pep rally wouldn’t take place after a vague report of threats.

A follow-up email sent to parents at 2:15 p.m. Thursday announced the investigation into those threats determined them to be false.

“The safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance to us and we wanted to assure you that at no time was there a danger to our campus nor were our students or staff in harm’s way,” Hays wrote in the second email.

Both emails included the assurance there was no danger to students or staffers on campus.

“This morning a student reported that a threat to our campus was posted on a popular social media platform,” Hays wrote initially. “While the threats have not been verified by the Denton Police Dept., know that we are currently working through details and an investigation.”

Julie Zwahr, a Denton ISD spokesperson, said details about the threat, social media platform used, process by which the district determined there was never any danger and identity of the person who made the threat were all under investigation by Denton High administrators and the Denton Police Department.

“At this point there has been little or no effect on the learning environment on campus today,” Zwahr said via email Thursday afternoon.

Denton police spokesperson Allison Beckwith said officers were on the scene and found the threats were unsubstantiated.

Every Denton ISD high school has at least two officers assigned to them by default.

Beckwith confirmed that a student reported seeing a threat posted on Snapchat. She said officers hadn’t seen the video by Thursday afternoon, so it wasn’t clear what exact threats were made or who had made them.

The campus was not locked down, and classes proceeded as normal throughout the day.

Zwahr said the community fair scheduled to take place in front of the Denton High campus would proceed as planned, as would Thursday night’s football game against Ryan High School.

Gov. Greg Abbott backpedals on pledge to shut down border crossings and blames Biden administration for confusion

Gov. Greg Abbott said on Thursday that he directed state troopers and the Texas National Guard “to shut down six points of entry along the southern border” at the request of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — then reversed himself shortly after, blaming the Biden administration for flip-flopping in its request for state help.

But a CBP spokesperson said the federal government — which operates ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border — had no plans to shut down any ports of entry.

“I have directed the Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to surge personnel and vehicles to shut down six points of entry along the southern border to stop these [migrant] caravans from overrunning our state,” Abbott said in an emailed statement. “The border crisis is so dire that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is requesting our help as their agents are overwhelmed by the chaos.”

Renae Eze, Abbott’s spokesperson, added that the state “is shutting down the ports of entry at the request of and in collaboration with CBP.”

A few hours later, Abbott sent out a new statement saying that the Biden administration “has now flip-flopped to a different strategy that abandons border security and instead makes it easier for people to cross illegally and for cartels to exploit the border ... I have directed the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to maintain their presence at and around ports of entry to deter crossings.”

Dennis Smith, the CBP spokesperson, said after Abbott’s initial directive that the agency had received no word from the federal government to shut down ports of entry.

“I couldn’t comment on anything the governor said, I don’t have any information on that,” Smith said.

Abbott’s statements don’t specify who at CBP made the request for assistance or what form of assistance was requested.

DPS said in a tweet that CBP had asked for help in shutting down the Del Rio port of entry “and we prepared to do so. Our partners have advised us that shutting down ports of entry is no longer part of their strategy.”

Abbott’s announcement comes as thousands of asylum-seeking migrants — most of them from Haiti — are waiting under an international bridge in Del Rio to be processed to enter the country, according to Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez.

Though Del Rio has seen a sharp rise in migrant apprehensions this year, the sheriff said people have been arriving in unusually high numbers in recent days. On Saturday, he said, there were 2,500 migrants waiting under the port of entry bridge. By Thursday morning, that number had grown to about 8,400, he said.

Martinez estimated about 70% of the migrants were from Haiti, which has been struck by two recent tragedies: the assassination of the country’s president in July, followed by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in August that destroyed thousands of homes.

The migrants seeking to turn themselves in are being sent to wait under the bridge and are given a ticket to mark their turn to be processed, Martinez said.

“Border Patrol is overwhelmed,” he said. “They just can’t process them fast enough, so there’s a backlog of these individuals underneath the bridge. They’re not detained, they’re just gathered there waiting their turn to get processed.”

In August, federal agents recorded 5,196 encounters with Haitians in the Del Rio sector, a 25% increase from the previous month, according to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.

“The Border Patrol is increasing its manpower in the Del Rio Sector and coordinating efforts within [the Department of Homeland Security] and other relevant federal, state and local partners to immediately address the current level of migrant encounters and to facilitate a safe, humane and orderly process,” Smith said in an emailed statement. “To prevent injuries from heat-related illness, the shaded area underneath Del Rio International Bridge is serving as a temporary staging site while migrants wait to be taken into USBP custody.”