Commerce Conundrum: Raising Revenues Without Raising Taxes

May 13, 2016

The City of Commerce is set to get a new mayor next week. Wyman Williams won the mayoral election last Saturday, and he’s scheduled to be sworn in before the city council begins its regular meeting next Tuesday evening.

Wyman Williams: I was born in Dallas, and at age three, my family moved to Commerce to become a part of a local car dealership. My dad thought that would be for a very short time. It didn’t work out that way. We stayed here, he ended up owning the business, and I joined him in the business. And six years ago, I sold the business and became a part of the university as a fundraiser for the College of Business. In the years that I was in the retail business, I was active in the community on several volunteer jobs. I did hold an elected office for twelve years. I was on the Hunt Memorial Hospital Board of Directors, which is an elected office, for 12 years. Ten of those years I served as its Board Chair, so I do have some experience in implanting public policy from an elected office. I got interested in the running for mayor, as we had some situations in our city that brought about some conflict, and I have an interest in the progress of this city and university and maybe some of the things that I’ve experienced could help bring that along.

Haslett: According to Williams, one problem that the city faces is the fact that a little more than half of the property within the city limits of Commerce is tax exempt. The city relies on property taxes for most of its revenue. And of course, you have the university plus municipal and other public lands. That doesn’t leave a lot of land left over for taxing.

Slightly more than half of the land within the Commerce city limits is tax exempt.
Credit provided image

Williams: And as our university grows and buys more property in our city, that property becomes exempt as well. Those are things that we have to work on as city, to increase revenues. We know we cannot depend on increasing taxes, because we are not competitive with our total tax rate with communities in the region. We’ve already maxed out what we should be charging citizens tax-wise, for property tax. However, in the last year, there has been a process installed by the previous council that allows us to remove unsafe structures. Many of those were not paying taxes; they had back-taxes on them. The more of those that we remove that are not producing tax income to the city, actually invites investment to build properties that will be taxes. We just need to increase the value of taxable properties in our city.

Haslett: Sales tax makes up a little more than a fifth of the city’s budget currently. Williams says that there’s potential to grow revenue through sales tax, not by raising the sales tax rate, but by increasing sales.

Williams: Something that we all can do by simply talking to folks about advantages is to think about where we purchase those items that are taxable, but we use all the time. I like to ask people “Where do you buy your paper towels?” Because those are things we buy all the time, and we don’t really think about how we can improve city services by making deliberate buying decisions within the city limits of Commerce.

Haslett: Mayor-Elect of Commerce Wyman Williams. He’s scheduled to be sworn in next Tuesday evening before the regular meeting of the city council. For KETR News, this is Mark Haslett.