By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
OK, so you want me to feel guilty about picking on the county judge for being non compos mentis. Jim Foster is an accidental officeholder, swept in last November on a countywide anti-Bush, Democratic tide. Give the man a break, you say.
He's a guy who owns an alarm business. He's never held office before. In his wildest imagination he never thought he would get elected to this one. Or any one.
He comes from a long line of Dallas County Democrats who allowed their names to be printed on ballots back when Democrats had less chance of actually getting elected than the Green Party.
Things changed. Suddenly. And mainly for the better. The tide of new Democratic officeholders has been really great—the district attorney, the county and district clerks, the county treasurer and especially all the Democratic judges—you hear nothing but good.
The Democratic sheriff? You hear some bad. But at least there's a debate.
Foster? No debate. Everybody knows his election was an unfortunate fluke. The best defense for him I've heard is that it wasn't his fault he got elected.
I said to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price once, "You know what they say about democracy. The problem is sometimes the people elect the wrong person."
He said, "Well, in this case, I think of something else they say. The problem is sometimes the people elect an innocent man."
Whatever. I guess I didn't really have to jam Foster up so bad for taking part in a stupid prank at the Dallas County History Museum ("Dim and Dimmer," July 19, 2007). And maybe there was no great purpose served by my beating up on him for never coming to work ("In and Out," August 9, 2007).
One caller said to me, "Given everything else you've told us already about the guy, why do you want him to come to work?"
But here's the point. It's the top elective post in county government in this major urban county. Important things do happen, depending on what the person in that post does.
Case in point: Two weeks ago Jim Foster, a Democrat, taking his lead as he often does from fellow county Commissioner Maureen Dickey of the Dickey's Barbecue Pit fortune—a barbecue plutocrat—voted for a change in county taxes to totally screw elderly citizens of modest to moderate means.
Foster. Democrat. Sucks up to plutocrat. Votes to screw the un-rich. Do the math.
Right at the top, I want to be fair about Dickey, because good friends whose opinions I value have accused me of being even more unfair about her than I have been about Foster. I think it is completely appropriate, legitimate, understandable and predictable that Dallas County Commissioner Dickey wants to screw the un-rich.
She is not of them. They are not her lookout. If they want her help, why don't they get rich first? She is a plutocrat, not a Democrat.
But Foster's a Democrat. Or supposed to be.
Here are the specifics. The county has always had a rule that you get $69,000 whacked off the taxable value of your house when you turn 65. Your house is listed at a taxable value of $300,000. On your birthday, they take it down to $231,000.
OK, county property taxes are based on the value of your house. They lower your value, you pay lower taxes. Nice, eh? A break for the geezers.
Dickey talked the commissioners into changing it. Because house values keep going up so much, she said, the way to help old folks is by freezing the taxable value of their homes.
Even if the real value of your house—the value you could get if you sold it—goes up by a lot over time, the county won't increase the taxable value of your house under Dickey's new rule. That doesn't actually completely freeze your taxes, because the county will continue to raise the actual tax rate—oh, look: Her freeze on taxable values will help some old people a lot.
Excepterooni: Ah, yes, the hook, the trick, the sting, the fine print, the part they hoped you wouldn't notice. Dickey talked the commissioners into taking away the $69,000 exemption for everybody who turns 65 from here on out.
Why? For a very good and responsible reason. County needs new shoes. By cutting the geezer taxes with her freeze on taxable values, she's causing the county to lose a lot of revenue. So she takes away the $69,000 exemption they used to get. That gives back a bunch of money to the county. It all evens out.
Hey! You are TOO sharp. You already see it, don't you? If you're giving back X amount of money to the geezers with the freeze, but you're taking away the same amount with the other thing, what good are you doing the geezers?
Ah, but it's a question of which geezers.
Take the $69,000 exemption. In the community of Highland Park, where the average taxable value of a house is now $1.6 million, according to the Dallas County Appraisal District, the $69,000 exemption is basically bupkus. Sixty-nine grand off the top of a $1.6 million taxable value doesn't do a whole lot for you on your tax bill.