August 1, 2006

 By Mary McGarr  

Ever since the Humble oil fields in far west Katy were shut down, the Katy citizen fathers have been looking for a way to bring new tax dollars to the Katy area. The need to do so finds impetus in the overburdening property taxing requirements that have grown exponentially on the local citizenry. The idea proffered time and again was that more and newer businesses meant more tax dollars from someone other than individual home owners.

At first the effort was a concern of the Katy City Council, but the school district and the area’s interests expanded over time, just outgrew the capabilities of that governmental body, and a couple of Chambers of Commerce emerged to try to create outside interest in the benefits of the area.

In a bold move, the Katy Chamber of Commerce, chucked its City of Katy mantle and became the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, moved out of the City of Katy, and won the competition. Although there were some good C OF C leaders along the way, [Tom Adams comes to mind] no one seemed able to step out and take the area to the next level of action which would actually bring new corporate business expansion to the area. In the mean time, Old Katy was miffed by the move of the Chamber and justifiably so.

During these initial efforts, many of us suggested to, worked with , and prodded our leaders to do something, anything, to create the structure necessary to bring such businesses to our area. As a School Board member, the topic, at my request, was discussed many times. The vision that many of us had was for an organization to step up and do whatever was necessary to bring large corporate business to the area. In retrospect, I would suggest that we should have been more circumspect about what we were wishing for!

When Ann Hodge became the CEO of the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, we seemed to have found a good leader, and everyone knows that she has done a good job of focusing the Katy business community. She has certainly made all of us feel good about our area of Houston.

During my term of office on the School Board in the 1990's, I almost always attended the monthly luncheon meetings of the Katy Chamber as one of the school district‘s representatives, [and funny, but I don't remember Ann Hodge ever being there,] and I have good memories of the many great leaders of that organization and the speakers the Chamber brought for us to hear.

The Katy Chamber has brought together business interests and furthered their common goals. That would seem to be the Chamber's purpose, and they have been successful. But the next step of actually bringing the big corporations to Katy seems not to have been part of their agenda.

I am not sure who gets credit for bringing the Katy Mills Mall to our area. [Recently I have discovered that it was Katy City Manager Johnny Nelson and not Joe Adams!] The fact that our School Board relented and gave them a tax abatement for twenty years means that no taxes are forthcoming from this business enterprise during that time. Yes, there were some benefits in the trade-offs, but it remains to be seen if that was a wise decision. While I was on the School Board, Albertson’s requested a tax abatement for their proposed warehouse at the corner of I-10 and Mason Road. Albertson’s tried to play KISD off against another school district that was supposedly courting them. The Board stood firm and refused to give in, and Albertson’s built their warehouse in our district anyway. When Albertson’s folded in the Katy area, the warehouse apparently was sold to someone else. I wonder what would have happened regarding the taxes if the abatement had been granted. Most fiscal conservatives that I know do not believe that tax abatement is good thing.

In the last few years, the area has seen another organization pop up due to legislation that was specifically designed to allow economic development councils. I was at first encouraged by their presence hoping that finally a group was being created to fulfill my long ago wish for an entrepreneurial group of businessmen who would see the need to bring established businesses to the area. However, I sense that such is not the case. The Katy Area Economic Development Council set itself up with proper financing and membership dues, great goals, and a quality membership list.

My disappointment with KAEDC stems from the fact that I perceive that the original goal of bringing big business to the area has spiraled dismally into nothing more than a group of small businessmen trying to create more business for themselves while apparently forgetting about their greater purpose. Perception can be reality. I also see too much effort being spent to back those who feel the need to feed at the public trough. Cornering a piece of KISD bond money seems paramount to their business plan if not the only goal!

Unfortunately the KAEDC has seen fit to place their offices at the KISD Arena which does not help their image. Nobody is going to think we are "uptown" if the economic development group for the area is housed in an arena! [They finally moved from this location recently]

Yes, there are hospitals and medical facilities going up all along the Katy Freeway, but they were going to come anyway. The KAEDC doesn’t get credit for their appearance on the scene. As our population ages, medical facilities will proliferate on their own. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe non-profit medical facilities are tax exempt, so all those buildings do not help KISD's tax situation; in fact they negatively impact it as formerly taxable lands are taken off the tax rolls therefore not generating any tax revenue while we all get to fund the education of the employees' children!

However, there are big corporations that COULD be coming to Katy! Those corporations are the kind of business that will bring substantial tax dollars to our community and provide relief for the homeowner. It has been almost twenty years since we snared a BP--longer than that for the Shell’s, Conoco’s and EXXON’S. THOSE are our biggest tax payers, and we need more like them. The Park Ten complex was originally touted as being the future population center of Houston and the Oil Capital of the World. That idea may be coming back, but I don't think the KAEDC has had anything to do with that! Shell Oil has recently built several new office buildings, a couple of parking garages, and is building a day care facility for their employees' children.  The oil industry does more for the Katy ISD tax base than the KAEDC!

Where is our George Mitchell or Gerald Hines or Walter Mischer? Which entrepreneur with the smarts and the bucks to carry it off is going to come to the aid of the Katy Independent School District and its taxpayers?

For certain we need a newer and better kind of organization, or perhaps stronger leadership of the KAEDC, someone who will search for the big corporations since existing efforts seem unable to make the leap to the big time---someone who won't lose a KPMG when it's already got shovels in the ground--someone who will not bring businesses that are totally dependent upon feeding at the trough of the school district in order to make money. 

Taxes are what keep the Katy area growing, and without having some alternative sources that do not excessively penalize homeowners, our area will grow but not in the manner that it might have.