When I was first elected to Flower Mound’s Town Council in 2009, my priority was always to residents and taxpayers of Flower Mound.
However, throughout the nine years I was on Flower Mound’s Council, my goal evolved into two goals, one was to serve our residents and but the other was prioritize the 500 plus employees that work for the town of Flower Mound.
One might ask and fault me for putting the employees of Flower Mound on par with our residents, but I quickly learned the product delivered to our residents was intertwined with having employees that had a strong desire to also serve our 70,000 residents.
From police, fire, parks to permitting and not getting one’s garbage picked up (call Shelly Putnam, she is the front line for Flower Mound’s Customer Service and she is an All-Star in all ways), think of how often you interact with our town employees. As my time on council went by, it was easy to see there was lots of opportunity to improve morale within the town.
Perhaps, the best thing that occurred was the hiring of Jimmy Stathatos and Debra Wallace. Together they have hired and promoted a team of people that our staff feels motivated to give their best. I’ll never forget Danny Hartz (rest his soul), a wonderful person who left his deer lease in West Texas on a Friday night to drive back to Flower Mound and inspect a gas line so a wedding on Saturday Morning could have heat.
I’ve sat with Joelle late into the evening who has said, don’t worry Tom, we aren’t going home till we get their lights restored.
Gary Sims, our former parks director (now retired) told me numerous times how reinvigorated he felt working for Debra. Gary had several bouts with cancer, and I remember Gary having chemotherapy in the mornings, and coming to work in the afternoons. While taking radiation for his cancer, which he described as having the worst sunburn you could ever remember, that would never go away, he would sometimes only miss a day.
I said to him once, Gary, you don’t have to do this, talk to Debra, she understands. Gary responded, “Tom this is where I want to be. I’ve got to get Heritage Park, this trail, Twin Coves, a tennis center location, etc. completed before I retire. Tom this is where I want to be.”
It is hard to quantify what Jimmy and Debra have done to advance the morale in the town of Flower Mound.
The other thing we worked on was improving compensation for our employees. When I first joined Flower Mound’s Council, and this is from memory but I believe the starting salary for our police and fire members was approximately $44,000 a year. It seemed like the only police officers we could hire were those we would send to the Academy, and they would stay three years and leave.
Currently there are over 300-400 vacant firefighter positions in North Texas. The compensation we offered made it difficult to retain and hire employees. If one wants to save money, retain good employees. It cost much more to send someone to the police academy that is only going to be here three years.
Our Town Council is focused on reducing our tax rate, to which I say, “hooray.” We all pay too much in taxes. As far as that goes, the only time in the last 30 years we have reduced the tax rate in Flower Mound, was a few years ago. And if we can do it more, of course do it, just please be careful and closely monitor the impact.
When thinking about the taxes we pay the town, it’s important to remember a couple of things. First, the town of Flower Mound’s tax rate is already in the bottom third of our surrounding cities and in the last almost 30 years it has never been increased, only lowered. The other thing is when we pay our taxes, 80 percent of it goes to the county and local school district.
In Flower Mound, the average house cost a little over $400,000. For every penny we cut our tax rate, it saves the average home owner about $21. I know the town’s staff is working hard to reduce expenses. Over the last decade the amount of your tax dollars that went to pay our debt decreased by almost 25 percent.
In 2010, approximately 12 cents of what we paid to the town was used for debt service. Now it is close to 9 cents. That is Debra managing our town’s finances, and it has resulted in Flower Mound being one of the fewer than 20 communities that is rated AAA in Texas.
And if we can cut taxes, we should. But not at the expense of our town. If it means not compensating our employees in a competitive manner, we are going to lose the best employees, and that will mean losing our town. If we cut taxes, just to pat ourselves on the back and say look what we did, but we can’t maintain an aging water and sewer system, our roads … are we really getting ahead?
I mean this sincerely, one of the best people I know is our Mayor, Steve Dixon. He is kind, he is caring, and … he is very thrifty. I remember one disagreement we had on council and it was about building the dog park. He said, if we spend more than $500,000, I can’t vote for it. My response to Steve was if we are going to build it lets build a nice one or just not do it at all. Gary Sims was raked over the coals to cut cost, but it ended up costing more than $500,000. In hindsight, I think everyone who has been the to the Hound Mound would say it was money well spent. But my point is you have a budget hound serving as mayor, and if he isn’t raising alarm bells, I suspect our tax dollars are being spent prudently.
It took a lot of effort to improve the morale of our employees, to be recognized as the 16th best place to live in the country, and to be recognized as the safest community in Texas. It is because of people, and if we send the message people aren’t important, we will reverse course. It won’t happen in a year, but over time the good ones will be recruited away. It will be when we have that open position where we are competing with Grapevine and Frisco, and Flower Mound comes in third.
All the work it took to get to this point can be easily reversed. That is why it is $21 vs. The Town on the Mound. If you can cut taxes without impacting services, please cut, although I’m sure Jimmy and Debra already have done so. Just please be sure we will still be the safest place in Texas and 16th (if not better) place to live in a few years.