As we move closer to polls opening in the 2021 Jersey Village municipal elections, many voters are beginning to ask questions about the various propositions on the ballot. Let’s examine each one to better understand exactly what is proposed and what impact it will have on our city.

First, a word on some rather confusing labeling of the propositions. You may notice three different questions labeled “Proposition A” and two labelled “Proposition B”. This is because, technically, you are being asked to vote, using one ballot, in elections held by three different entities: the City of Jersey Village, the Jersey Village Crime Control and Prevention District, and the Jersey Village Fire Control Prevention and Emergency Medical Services District.

For the sake of brevity, I will often refer instead to “the city”, “the crime control district”, or “the fire control district” as we review each ballot item.

City of Jersey Village Special Election

Proposition A

Eliminating Sections 1.08 and 1.09 of the City Charter related to the use of Red Light Cameras within the City of Jersey Village.

Shall the Jersey Village Charter be amended by amending “Article I – Incorporation, Form of Government and Powers” by eliminating Section 1.08 and Section 1.09, “Photographic Traffic Signal Systems”, in order to ban red light cameras?

It is important to note that whether this proposition passes or fails, red light cameras are not coming back. The use of red light cameras by local governments was banned by the Texas Legislature in June 2019. Instead, this ballot item proposes to clean up the charter by removing provisions approved by voters in 2016 related to the city’s use of red light cameras in the past.

It’s always important to ensure our city charter remains as clear to understand as possible, without any outdated or irrelevant provisions. In my opinion, it’s an uncontroversial provision that should easily pass.

Proposition B

Amending Section 2.01 of the City Charter related to the number, selection, and term of office the members of the City Council of the City of Jersey Village.

Shall the Jersey Village charter be amended by amending “Article II – The Council”, Section 2.01, “Number, Selection and Term of Office”, in order to reflect gender neutral language and to require a majority vote for a candidate for city council or for mayor to be elected?

This is yet another proposition that won’t change how our city government operates. It is designed to clean up some of the language of this part of the charter.

As outlined in Ordinance 2021-02, this ballot item would propose to make the following edits to the charter:

In the event of the approval of this proposition, Article II, Section 2.01 of the City Charter shall be amended to read as follows, with additions being underlined and deletions being stuck through:

“Sec. 2.01. – Number, selection and term of office.
The council shall be composed of a mayor and five (5) other councilmembers, each of whom, unless sooner removed under the provisions of this Charter or the laws of the State of Texas, shall serve for a term of two (2) years or until his a successor has been elected and installed. The members of the council, other than the mayor, shall be elected to and occupy a place on the council, such places being numbered One, Two, Three, Four and Five, respectively. Places One, Four and Five on the council shall be filled by popular majority vote each even-numbered year, and places Two and Three on the council shall be filled by popular majority vote each odd-numbered year. The office of mayor shall be filled by popular majority vote each odd-numbered year.

No person shall serve more than three (3) consecutive two-year terms as mayor, nor more than four (4) consecutive two-year terms as councilmember or a combination of mayor/councilmember. Any portion of a term served shall count in calculating the total number of consecutive terms served. No person who has served four (4) consecutive terms as councilmember or mayor/councilmember shall hold office as mayor within the one-year period following the said four (4) terms of service.”

The reality is that our city council is already elected by a majority vote as required by Section 3.04 of our charter. By replacing “popular” with “majority” here, it makes the language concerning our elections more uniform.

This proposition also seeks to make our charter gender neutral. Clearly, both men and women have served on our city council in the past. In fact, we know that at least one woman will serve on our city council after this upcoming election. The use of “he”, “him”, or “his” in the law to refer to both genders, however, is a practice that has largely fallen out of favor over the years. This is a small change that more accurately represents how our city government functions.

Proposition C

Amending Section 2.12 of the City Charter related to the requirements for the publication of ordinances of the City of Jersey Village.

Shall the Jersey Village Charter be amended by amending “Article II – The Council”, section 2.12, “Publication of Ordinances”, in order to allow for the posting on the city’s website of ordinances passed by the city council in lieu of posting such ordinances in a newspaper?

This proposition is fairly straightforward. It proposes the following changes:

In the event of the approval of this proposition, Article II, Section 2.12 of the City Charter shall be amended to read as follows, with additions being underlined and deletions being stuck through:

“Sec. 2.12. – Publication of ordinances and other required public notices.
Except as otherwise provided required by law or this Charter, the city secretary shall give notice of the enactment of every ordinance imposing any penalty, fine or forfeiture for any violation of any of its provisions, and of every other ordinance required by law or this Charter to be published, by causing said ordinance, or its caption and penalty, to be published (i) at least one time within ten (10) days after passage thereof in the official newspaper of the city, or (ii) by posting on the municipal bulletin board for City Council agendas at City Hall and on the city’s internet website continuously for twenty (20) days after passage. Except as otherwise required by law or this Charter, any requirement of the city council, or any board, department or official of the city, to provide notice with respect to any real or personal property, act, event, hearing, or other occurrence, by advertisement or notice, publication of such advertisement or notice on the municipal bulletin board and on the city’s internet website, continuously for at least seventy two (72) hours or for such other longer time frame for advertisement or prescribed by law, if any, shall be sufficient public notice.”

When the charter was approved by voters on August 9, 1986, it was common practice for ordinances imposing a fine or other penalty to be published in the newspaper to give everyone notice of the change in law. Of course, much has changed in the nearly 35 years since adoption of our city charter. The use of the Internet is wide spread and newspaper readership is significantly lower.

Not only will this change provide cost savings for the city, but it recognizes the fact that providing notice on the city’s website is a far more effective means of reaching a wider audience than a newspaper.

Proposition D

Amending Sections 2.03, 3.01, 3.03, 4.09, 4.10, 5.01, 9.04, and 9.07 of the City Charter to provide for gender-neutral language.
Shall the Jersey Village Charter be amended by replacing gender specific language with gender neutral language in Sections 2.03, 3.01, 3.03, 4.09, 4.10, 5.01, 9.04, and 9.07?

It proposes the following changes:

In the event of the approval of this proposition, Sections 2.03, 3.01, 3.03, 4.09, 4.10, 5.01, 9.04, and 9.07 of the City Charter shall be amended to read as follows, with additions being underlined and deletions being stuck through:

“Sec. 2.03. – Vacancies.
Vacancies on the council arising from any cause shall be filled by a vote of the council. The person appointed to fill any such vacancy shall possess all qualifications required for the office. There shall not be more than one (1) appointee on the council at any given time. If two (2) or more vacancies, or one (1) or more vacancies together with one (1) appointee exist at the same time, a special election shall be called to fill said vacancies and replace said appointee. However, if such vacancies occur within one hundred twenty (120) days of a regular election, such vacancies shall be filled by appointment by vote of the council. A council position filled by appointment shall be filled by election at the next city general election for the remaining year of the unexpired term or for the next full term, as the case may be. A member of the council shall be disqualified for office if he the person fails to meet the qualifications of office or if he the person is absent from three (3) consecutive or five (5) nonconsecutive regular council meetings per two-year term. Upon determination by vote of the council that a member of the council is disqualified for office, the office shall be vacant. No action taken by the council prior to such vote shall be invalid because of such disqualification.”

“Sec. 3.01. – Regular elections.
The regular election of members of the council to the positions to be filled on the council shall be held on the first election date authorized by state law on or after the first day of April of each year at a place or places designated by the council by ordinance. At every such election such voter shall not vote for more than one (1) candidate for each council position to be filled. Such election shall be ordered by the mayor, and in the event of his the mayor’s failure to order the same, the council shall make such order. In the event of the failure of the mayor and the council to so act, such election may be called by the city secretary; and in the event of his the city secretary’s failure to act, by the County Judge of Harris County, Texas; and in the event of his the County Judge’s failure to act, by the Governor of the State of Texas. The city secretary shall give such notice of the election as may be prescribed by law.”

“Sec. 3.03. – Filing for office.
Any person qualified to serve under the provisions of Article II hereof may be a candidate for election to a position on the council. A candidate person who desires to have his name appear on the ballot be a candidate for an elective position on the city council shall file an application with the city secretary within the time prescribed by law. Such application shall clearly designate the desired position on the council and shall contain a sworn statement by the candidate person that he the person is fully qualified under the Constitution and laws of the State of Texas and the provisions of this Charter to hold the office he seeks sought. The names of all candidates who have filed for office shall be printed on the official ballot by position without party designations, in an order as provided by law.”

“Sec. 4.09. – Results of recall election.
If the majority of the votes cast at a recall election are for the recall of the officer named on the ballot, the office shall be vacant and shall be filled as specified in Article II of this Charter. An officer thus removed shall not be eligible to hold elective or appointive office in the city for a period of two years from the date of his such recall election.”

“Sec. 4.10. – Limitation on recall.
No recall petition shall be filed against an officer within six months after he the person takes office, and no officer shall be subjected to more than one recall election during any one term of office.”

“Sec. 5.01. – City manager.
The council shall appoint a city manager, who shall be the chief administrative and executive officer of the city. He The city manager shall be chosen by the council on the basis of the person’s executive and administrative training, experience and ability. The city manager shall be appointed for an indefinite term, and may be removed at the will of the council. The decision of the council as to such appointment or removal shall be final. The city manager shall receive such compensation as may be fixed by the council. No member of the council shall, during the term for which the member is elected and for two years thereafter, be chosen as city manager.

By letter filed with the city secretary, the city manager may designate, subject to council approval, a qualified city administrative officer to be acting city manager during his the city manager’s temporary absences or disabilities. The council may revoke such designation at any time and appoint another person acting city manager to serve during such times; and if the city manager fails to make such designation, the council may appoint an acting city manager to serve during such times. The council may remove an acting city manager at any time.”

“Sec. 9.04. – Tort liability.
Before the city shall be liable for damages for the death or personal injuries of any person or for damages to or destruction of property of any kind, which does not constitute a taking or damaging of property under Article I, Section 17, Constitution of the State of Texas, the person injured, if living, or his the person’s legal representatives, if deceased, or the parent or guardian of a minor child, or the owner, his the owner’s agent or attorney of the property damaged or destroyed, shall give the city manager notice in writing of such death, injury, damage or destruction, duly verified by affidavit, within six months after same has been sustained, stating specifically in such written notice when, where and how the death, injury, damage or destruction occurred, and the apparent extent of any such injury, the amount of damages sustained, the actual residence of the claimant by street and number at the date the claim is presented, the actual residence of such claimant for six months immediately preceding the occurrence of such death, injury, damage or destruction, and the names and addresses of all witnesses upon whom it is relied to establish the claim for damages. The failure to so notify the city manager within the time and manner specified herein shall exonerate, excuse and exempt the city from any liability whatsoever. No act of any officer, employee or agent of the city shall waive compliance, or preclude the city from requiring compliance, with the provisions of this section as to notice.”

“Sec. 9.07. – Personal interest in city business.
No member of the council or employee of the city shall personally engage in any business with the city nor shall have any financial interest, direct or indirect, in any commercial entity doing business with the city. The provisions of this section relating to financial interest in such commercial entity shall not apply when the ownership share of such councilmember or city employee is less than one percent of such entity. Any willful violation of this section shall constitute malfeasance in office, and any such councilmember or city employee guilty thereof shall thereby forfeit his the person’s council position or city employment, as applicable. Further, any violation of this section with the express or implied knowledge of a person or entity doing business with the city shall render the person’s or entity’s contract with the city voidable by the council.”

That is a rather lengthy portion of the charter, but the changes should be easy to follow. Just as with Proposition B, this attempts to make these provisions gender neutral while ensuring each section is clear.

City of Jersey Village and the Jersey Village Fire Control, Prevention and Emergency Medical Services District Joint Special Election

Proposition A

The creation of the Jersey Village Fire Control, Prevention, and Emergency Medical Services District dedicated to Fire Safety and Emergency Medical Services Programs, and the adoption of a sales tax at a rate of one-half of one percent (0.5%) to fund the District, and the concurrent abolition of the one-half of one percent (0.5%) sales tax for property tax relief.

Cities in Texas are allowed to collect up to two cents on every dollar spent on transactions subject to sales tax. Out of the 8.25% sales tax you pay in Jersey Village, 6.25% goes to the state and the rest remains in the city. Currently, 1.5% is deposited into the city’s general fund and the remaining half percent goes into the crime control district’s fund. This fund is dedicated to law enforcement purposes and helps to keep our police department one of the best in the state. During the most recently completed fiscal year, the crime control district collected over $2.1 million in sales tax. That represents approximately 60% of our police department’s budget.

For years, during our budget workshops, I have often lamented the fact that of our first responders, only the police department received that dedicated funding. Our outstanding fire department, on the other hand, is funded entirely through our general fund. With construction on Village Center scheduled to begin this year, city council felt it was very important to ensure that our fire department was as well positioned as our police department to face the growth we will see in the coming years.

Why was the half cent currently collected for property tax relief picked as the source of funding to direct to the proposed fire control district? It’s not that city council is against providing property tax relief. In fact, the city property tax bill on the average home in Jersey Village is $211 lower than it was four years ago. Instead, changes in state law in recent years would make it difficult to be able to pursue economic development in a meaningful way with the property tax relief sales tax in place.

A simple example may help us to understand why. Let’s assume that the city collected $10 million in property tax revenue last year, while also collecting $1 million from the half cent sales tax dedicated to property tax relief. When the time came to set property tax rates for the upcoming year, let’s suppose city council wanted to keep property tax revenues flat. For the purpose of this example, we should assume property values in our city remained flat. It would seem that setting the same property tax rates as the prior year would achieve this. Well, not according to the State of Texas.

In the above example, if city council kept the tax rate the same, while valuations remained the same, the state would require the city to say that it raised property taxes by 10% and would require voters to approve that tax rate at the ballot box. The reason is because when property tax benchmarks are calculated, the amount of sales tax collected for property tax relief is required to be subtracted from the figure used to calculate the amount of property tax collected in the prior year. In other words, to avoid being forced by state law to say “we’re raising taxes”, the city would have to reduce the property tax rate to collect only $9 million instead of the same $10 million as the prior year.

Ordinarily, this is a very good thing. The city uses some of the funds raised through sales tax to reduce the property tax burden of everyone in the city, including residents, businesses, apartment owners, car dealerships, etc. If, however, a city wants to use that sales tax in order to incentivize new businesses to move into the city, the state still requires the sales tax generated and rebated back to that new business to still be counted in the property tax calculation. While this isn’t an issue with smaller economic development deals, imagine if we were in a position to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to the city. Depending on the type of business, the sales tax generated by such investment could be millions of dollars.

This ballot measure asks our citizens to allow our city council the flexibility to invest in our future. We all want to continue reducing property tax revenues. The best way to achieve this goal is to grow our sales tax base. The best strategy for growing the sales tax base is through economic development incentives used by cities all over the state. By changing this half cent sales tax from property tax relief to a new fire protection district, we can make that a reality while also ensuring our fire department is prepared for that amazing growth.

If this ballot item is approved by voters, the district would be authorized for an initial five year period. If council chose to continue the district, voters would need to approve continuation of the district at least every ten years.

Proposition B

Should the creation of the City of Jersey Village Fire Control, Prevention, and Emergency Services District be authorized, the Jersey Village City Council may approve an Ordinance to appoint the City Council and the City Manager of the City of Jersey Village to serve as the Board of Directors of the City of Jersey Village Fire Control, Prevention, and Emergency Services District.

If Proposition A passes, creating the fire control district, this Proposition would allow city council to appoint themselves and the city manager to the board.

State law provides two means of appointing a board for a fire control district: either voters approve members of council to the board or each member of council is allowed to unilaterally appoint one director to serve, and that director may be removed at will by the appointing councilmember. Because the board of directors have direct taxing and spending authority, it makes sense why the legislature would want city council to have either direct control over the district or control over a board member serving on their behalf. Such a system ensures that citizens are represented by elected officials in the operation of that district and there is clear accountability for the funds raised.

Jersey Village Crime Control and Prevention District Special Election

Proposition A

Whether the Jersey Village Crime Control and Prevention District should be continued for five (5) years, and whether the Crime Control and Prevention District sales tax should be continued for five (5) years.

This ballot item is designed to align the time periods for continuing the crime control and fire protection districts. Since continuation of special districts must be approved by voters after an initial 5 year period, followed by 10 year periods afterward, voters are asked to approve renewal of the crime control district a few years early.

Assuming the districts are approved/continued by voters, continuation votes would happen again in 2026 and every 10 years thereafter.