HOUSTON — A group of activist taxpayers are claiming victory this week after a court ruling that said the powerful and politically connected Montrose Management District should “act diligently and without delay” to verify that taxpayers in the area want the taxing district dissolved.
The management district has 45 days to accomplish this, according to Harris County District Judge Daryl Moore.
“It’s game over,” said Andy Taylor, the attorney representing the taxpayers. “They have to validate or invalidate the petition in the mind of this judge. In my opinion there’s nothing they can do short of saying, ‘ok, we lose.’ It’s removing their fig leaf and they’re now standing their naked.”
He added: “In a month and half this district is going to be dissolved.”
The district has long been controversial.
Taxpayers in the neighborhood have been fighting the controversial management district for years and and want to erase the taxing district from the books.
And late last year, Moore of the Harris County 333rd Civil Court ruled that the management district improperly assessed nearly $6.6 million from business owners. Moore also ruled that the district “is further ordered to refrain from attempting to collect further assessments” from taxpayers, as well as spending any of that money wrongly collected.
The assessments paid by property owners were done so under duress, according to Moore.
Montrose District representatives suggest that Taylor’s victory lap may be premature.
“Andy Taylor is simply not playing with a full deck,” said Richard Weber, a spokesperson for the District. “This order explicitly denied all of Mr. Taylor’s legal arguments point by point, lifted the TRO and rejected the injunction. I don’t know how you can call that anything but an utter failure by the petitioner.”
Weber added: “As you know, Andy Taylor is not shy about making colorful public comments that have little or no basis in the truth. As a plaintiff’s attorney, I think he should spend more time preparing his legal arguments and less time giving interviews that intentionally mislead the public and perhaps even his clients.”
Along with many special taxing districts, the creation of the Montrose Management District — initially called the West Montrose Management District before the merger with a neighboring district — was controversial.
The district was created in 2010. And like all of these management districts, they are not created by a vote of the people, but in the State Capitol in Austin where the bills are pushed quietly with very little input from those who would be taxed.
Once lawmakers and the governor sign off on the district legislation, management district officials must collect the signatures of 25 real commercial property owners within the district’s specified boundaries. It’s the businesses that are taxed rather than homeowners.
The aim of the legislation to create these districts is to spur improvements, provide better policing, and economic development.
In Wynn’s resignation letter, he notes why the Montrose district was created: “to fill a void which existed because the City of Houston was regrettably not fulfilling its obligations.”
After the appointments are made, the taxes are collected.
A 2011 news investigation of the Montrose Management District found that two-thirds of the 15 Montrose Management District board members appointed by then-Mayor Annise Parker had financial ties to Parker. On the board also sat Parker’s spouse.
And the district banks big money. It taxed business owners $2.1 million last year, records show.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected].org or at 832-258-6119.