Court says no to R&B tax repeal petition

Bill Clough photo Goliad County Republican Chair Kenneth Buelter addresses the court.

GOLIAD – Commissioners Court Monday voted 3-2 not to accept a petition offered by Goliad County Republican Chair Kenneth Buelter calling for the repeal of the county’s road and bridge tax.

The tax was established in 1905.

The court, with Pat Calhoun as judge, contending with the county’s habitual budget problems, favored levying a road and bridge tax as high as 15 cents per $100 valuation, with the revenue targeted strictly to road and bridge maintenance.

Buelter, who said that levying the road and bridge tax amounted to a 15-cent tax increase, began a petition drive calling for tax to be repealed.

Buelter says in two weeks he gathered 400 signatures.

His attempts to present it to the court were repeatedly delayed, not least because of the county election that resulted in Mike Bennett being elected as judge.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Mickey White put the acceptance of the petition on Monday’s agenda.

White moved to have the court accept the petition and to place the question on the ballot on the November election.

“The taxpayers of this county have spoken to us as their servant. I’m doing what the people tell me. That’s who I work for. I do not work for myself sitting here,” he said.

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Kenneth Edwards, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Alonzo Morales and Precinct 4 County Commissioner David Bruns, who previously opposed the idea, said their opinions were unchanged, emphasizing that they, too, represent the voters.

“I don’t think what we are deciding is whether (the road and bridge tax) is right or wrong,” Bennett said. “What we’re trying to decide here is whether or not we are going to allow the voters of this county to have their right to say.”

Buelter told the court that he had brought the petition to the court last September, citing a statute that required a minimum of 200 signatures to place an issue on the ballot.

White moved to place the repeal petition on the ballot.

Bennett seconded the motion “because that is what the voters have asked for.”

Before the vote, County Attorney Rob Baiamonte countered Buelter, saying the law he cited concerned the number of signatures  required were for a petition calling for a law.

However, to repeal a road and bridge tax, he said, “the court may grant a petition calling for an election to repeal the tax only if there is satisfactory proof that there is great dissatisfaction with the tax and it is probable that a majority of the residents of the county who are qualified to vote for the tax would vote to the repeal of the tax.

“The proposed petition has 400 signatures, he said, “the county has more than 5,000 qualified voters, which isn’t even 10 percent. That means they have to get 2,500 signatures.”

It should be noted that in the last election, in May, the turnout was 11 percent, or around 550 voters. Four hundred names on the petition represent almost 73 percent of the voters in the county who cared enough to vote.

Bennett then asked Baiamonte to seek a ruling from the Texas Attorney General on the issue, which Baiamonte told Bennett after the court session would take at least two months – long after the Aug. 20 deadline for placing something on the ballot.

Bennett then asked for a vote on the motion to accept the petition pending the ruling from the Texas Attorney General.

However, the point was moot. When the issue came to a vote, Bennett and White voted for the issue; Bruns, Morales and White against.

“I’ve done my part,” Buelter said after the  vote. “I brought this petition to the court five times and this is the first time it has voted on it. They voted not to allow voters to have their say.

“Period.”

Bill Clough is the Goliad editor at the Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-645-2330, or at goliad@mySouTex.com.

Advance-Guard Press - Goliad report