A Letter from County Commissioner Lon Shell
I am Lon Shell, your current Precinct 3 Commissioner. I have prepared this letter in an effort to provide you an opportunity to gain insight into my experience and background. Many of you may have recently heard from my opponent for Precinct 3 Commissioner as well. His campaign is built on rhetoric and has made deceptive claims about Hays County, our financial strength, and our tax rate. I take this very personally. I am a native of Hays County. I attended the San Marcos public schools, Kindergarten through 12th grade, received a Mechanical Engineering degree from Texas A&M University, and worked in Houston and Dallas before returning home over 12 years ago to start my business and raise my family. Hays County is and always will be my home. I have dedicated the last seven years of my life to this County, my friends, and my family, as the County’s Chief of Staff and as your Commissioner. I am not a lawyer, or an aspiring politician, like my opponent. I am an honest, hardworking businessman, a husband, father, brother and son, and I work for you. I have in-depth knowledge of county responsibilities, I take them very seriously, and believe now is not the time for rhetoric and deception.
My opponent likes to claim that Hays County has the 8th highest tax rate in the State of Texas. THIS IS DECEPTIVE. Hays County’s total tax rate is .445. There are counties in the State with tax rates approaching 1.20, over two and half times ours. In fact, we are much closer to the 8th lowest than the 8th highest. TO MAKE HIS CLAIM MY OPPONENT TRIES TO CONVINCE VOTERS THAT HAYS COUNTY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ENTIRE TAX BILL. THIS IS AGAIN DECEPTIVE. Hays County is responsible for the Hays County tax rate and the special road district tax rate, which when added together, equal .445. HAYS COUNTY HAS THE LOWEST TAX RATE IN OVER 20 YEARS AND OF 25 TAXING ENTITIES WITHIN THE COUNTY INCLUDING SCHOOLS, CITIES, AND EMERGENCY SERVICE DISTRICTS, HAYS COUNTY IS ONE OF ONLY THREE TO HAVE A LOWER RATE TODAY THAN 10 YEARS AGO.
I will use my home as an example. I paid $1,045 in County taxes for 2017. Ten years ago I paid $928 in County taxes, resulting in a $117 dollar increase over ten years. This 12% increase is less than inflation which was 15% over this time period. WHEN INFLATION IS CONSIDERED, I PAY LESS IN COUNTY TAXES TODAY THAN I DID TEN YEARS AGO. I paid a total of almost $4,500 in taxes to the school, ESD, and other taxing institutions (I do not live in a City or this would be higher). My county taxes account for less than 25% of my total property tax bill. THE COUNTY HAS NO CONTROL OVER ANY OTHER TAXING ENTITY AND DOES NOT SET RATES OR APPRAISED VALUES FOR THOSE TAXING ENTITIES. I, like many of you, am deeply concerned by raising local property taxes. I, like many of you, support our State’s recent efforts to limit the ability for our local governments to increase our taxes. Our Governor, Greg Abbott, has recently proposed a 2.5% cap on property tax increases, I support this cap. Our Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, worked hard last session, and our Texas Senate including our Senator and my friend, Donna Campbell, approved property tax increase limits. Unfortunately, the Texas House was not willing to join our Senate and pass this important legislation. I supported their efforts because they are the right thing to do, and I support these efforts because in my tenure with Hays County, we have never come close to the capped amounts proposed by the legislature. Unlike my opponent, I did not wake up a few months ago and realize that I pay too much in taxes. I have spent my entire adult life realizing I pay too much in taxes and I have spent the last seven years of my life working hard to do something about it and ensure it is not because of your County government. HAYS COUNTY HAS BEEN YOUR RESPONSIBLE LOCAL GOVERNMENT.
Unlike many other governments, Hays County has a balanced budget. It is a State law in Texas that counties must balance their budget. Hays County never spends each dollar that is budgeted. Instead, these unspent dollars are allowed to roll over into our savings. These savings are used for disaster recovery, funding one time purchases in lieu of issuing debt, and for paying off debt early. Our policy is to have six months of a reserve balance for County operations available at the end of each budget year. Beyond a six months reserve balance, I believe you should be able to hold on to your money for which you worked hard. This fiscal responsibility has resulted in the highest savings and the highest credit rating in our history. Our high credit rating and stellar financial audits allowed us to recently refinance older, high interest debt that was issued years ago at true interest cost of 2.7%. HAYS COUNTY’S FINANCIAL STRENGTH HAS SAVED THE COUNTY OVER $25 MILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT SERVICE COSTS. Hays County has also pre-paid millions of dollars in debt when “callable”. It would be easy for me to say I have no responsibility for any of Hays County’s debt. I have not voted to issue any of it as a Commissioner, truthfully I wish we didn’t have any. However, I believe it would be deceptive to ignore it or act like we can magically make it go away. It exists and it exists for a reason. Of Hays County’s debt, the overwhelming majority has been voter approved. The exception is the Government Center for which the debt was issued prior to my time of service, or the service of my three Republican colleagues on the Court. I am committed to never issuing any debt that has not been approved by the voter unless it is in the event of an emergency.
To offset some of our voter approved debt, and something that is never mentioned by my opponent or his supporters, is $133 Million in payments that has been pledged by TxDOT for improvements to State roads within the County. THIS YEAR THE STATE OF TEXAS WILL REIMBURSE THE COUNTY $8 MILLION, WHICH IS OVER 30% OF OUR TOTAL DEBT SERVICE. Obviously, any of the deceptive portrayals of our debt used by my opponent would look different if facts were considered and TxDOT’s financial responsibilities were included. I, like most of you, wish our County government did not have to finance work on State roads. However, without our agreement with the State, and other voter approved debt we would not have many of the improvements and projects in our community that many of us use and enjoy. Though I was not at the County during the planning and development of most of the following projects, I do know they are important to many of you and are therefore important to me.
· Safety improvements to RM 12 from San Marcos to the junction
· Safety improvements on RM 2325
· Wonder World extension
· Safety improvements to Hunter Road
· Soccer fields at Five Mile Dam
· Winters Mill Parkway and Trail
· Blue Hole Regional Park
· The Jacob’s Well Preserve
· The Purgatory Preserve and Trail System
When I became your Commissioner I assumed a great responsibility. When I hear of an accident on our roads, I first ask if everyone is alright, I think of their family and friends, and then I think of what could have been done to prevent it. Sometimes accidents happen and there is nothing that can be done, but sometimes there are improvements that can be made that will provide an extra level of safety that may save lives. Especially when these roads are experiencing volumes of traffic never imagined. My opponent is opposed to safety improvements on one of most dangerous roads in Precinct 3, FM 3237. He says safety improvements are not needed and are a waste of money. I have a friend that lost a brother on that stretch of road, and not long ago a county employee had an accident on the road. There are many subdivisions along this road and there is a school and church on this road. The State and the County both believe safety improvements are needed. The voter approved these improvements at the ballot box, and I intend to support the voters and makes sure these necessary safety improvements are completed. I AM NOT GOING TO SIT ON THE SIDELINE OR STAY SILENT WHEN IT COMES TO IMPROVING THE SAFETY OF OUR ROADS. ESPECIALLY WHEN EVERYONE AGREES THAT IMPROVEMENTS ARE NEEDED AND THEY CAN BE PRODUCED IN A FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE WAY.
Over 60% of your County taxes go towards law enforcement, the jail, and the judicial system. As a county we are mandated to provide these functions of government. We take this responsibility very seriously. In fact, we have one of the lowest crime rates in the State of Texas, which is lower than the state and national average. This is a testament to the quality of our law enforcement officers, District Attorney, Judges, Clerks and their staffs and is impressive not only because of our extreme growth but also because an international transportation corridor, I-35, runs the entire length of our County. Unfortunately, not everyone that travels up and down I-35 is a law abiding citizen or shares our values. We are fortunate to have dedicated officers from our local Police Departments, Constable Offices and Sheriff’s Office. I AM EXTREMELY PROUD TO HAVE THE ENDORSEMENT OF THE HAYS COUNTY LAW ENFORCEMENT ASSOCIATION (HCLEA), OUR SHERIFF, GARY CUTLER, AND OUR PRECINCT 3 CONSTABLE, RAY HELM. I have sat on the other side of the table from the HCLEA over the last seven years as we have negotiated their benefits and pay plan. I have had to tell them there are things that we can’t afford. I have had to tell them that sometimes we are just going to have to find some other way to accomplish their goals. Understanding the many times I have had to ask them to forgo certain benefits, or told them we just can’t make that happen right now, and to still be able to have their support means a great deal to me. I have their support because they trust me, and they know how much I appreciate what they do. LAW ENFORCEMENT IS A BASIC, CORE RESPONSIBILITY OF COUNTY GOVERNMENT AND I WILL CONTINUE TO WORK HARD TO FIND EFFICIENCIES IN OUR OPERATIONS AND REDUCE BUREAUCRATIC WASTE. HOWEVER, I WILL NOT MAKE CUTS TO OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT OR THE RESOURCES THEY NEED. THEY HAVE OUR BACKS ON A DAILY BASIS AND RISK THEIR LIVES TO PROTECT US. I WILL HAVE THEIR BACKS AS LONG AS THEY NEED ME.
The backbone of our community is our senior citizens. They truly represent this Country’s greatest generation. Last year, I developed, and the Court approved, a tax freeze for disabled citizens and senior citizens over 65. This ensures our County will not be responsible for taxing many of our citizens, who are on fixed incomes, out of their homes. IF YOU ARE OVER 65, OR A DISABLED RESIDENT OF HAYS COUNTY, YOU WILL NEVER PAY A DOLLAR MORE IN COUNTY TAXES ON YOUR HOMESTEAD, REGARDLESS OF FUTURE TAX RATES AND APPRAISALS, AND THE ACTION CREATING THE TAX FREEZE CAN NEVER BE REPEALED.
In my line of work I rarely get to experience what I call “victories”. Often the results of long range planning and conservative management can’t be seen immediately. If something is worth doing, it often takes much time and hard work to achieve. We often judge our successes in years not days or months. However, one aspect of County services does often provide me with a “victory” as well as a deep sense of fulfilment. Our Veteran Service department, led by Jude Prather, is an example of your government working for you. I have witnessed amazing things happen for our veterans and their families. Because of Jude’s hard work, caring nature, and dedication to his fellow veterans, I consider our Veteran Services office to be the best in the state. JUDE PRATHER’S ENDORSEMENT OF ME IS PROBABLY THE MOST MEANINGFUL. I REFUSE TO LET JUDE OR OUR VETERANS DOWN AND I WILL CONTINUE TO ENSURE HE HAS THE RESOURCES HE NEEDS.
In 2015 Hays County experienced its two greatest natural disasters. During the night of the Memorial Day Flood I was in Houston with my wife’s family. I followed the events over the first few hours in Houston and headed back home in the dark, early morning hours of that following day. I HAVE NEVER DRIVEN FASTER NOR WANTED TO BE SOMEWHERE SOONER, AND I WAS ONE OF THE FIRST TO CROSS THE BLANCO RIVER BRIDGE. MY MIND WILL NEVER FORGET THE SIGHT OF THE RIVER THAT I HAD PLAYED IN SINCE I WAS SMALL CHILD. I WILL NEVER FORGET THE DESPERATE FEELING OF HOPELESSNESS FOR THE FAMILIES WHOSE LIVES WERE FOREVER CHANGED BY THE LOSS OF LOVED ONES. HOWEVER, WHAT WILL STAY WITH ME IN MY HEART FOREVER, AND WHAT GUIDES MY EVERY DECISION AS YOUR COMMISSIONER, WERE THE ACTIONS OF OUR COMMUNITY IN ITS MOST VULNERABLE TIME. I witnessed neighbors helping neighbors, volunteers spending endless hours for strangers, often to the point of exhaustion, and first responders going days without sleep. During this time, former Commissioner Will Conley and I dedicated our lives to that recovery. Governor Greg Abott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Representative Jason Isaac, Senator Donna Campbell, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Ted Cruz and our Congressman, Roger Williams, were some of the first officials to visit. They were truly humbled by what they witnessed, I don’t think any of them quite understood what this community had endured until they walked with us, hugged people who had just lost everything, and cried with our citizens as they sorted through their personal belongings. Congressman Williams relocated his staff to our Wimberley Precinct 3 office to provide assistance. I got to know him and his staff during this time and I witnessed his dedication to our community. I WILL ALWAYS CHERISH THE RELATIONSHIPS I FORMED WITH OUR FIRST RESPONDERS, KEN STRANGE, CHIEF CAROL CZICHOS, CONSTABLE RAY HELM, AND JUDGE ANDY CABLE AS WE WORKED TOGETHER FOR ONE SINGULAR PURPOSE, OUR COMMUNITY. I AM TRULY GRATEFUL FOR THE ENDORSEMENT OF CONGRESSMAN WILLIAMS AND THE MANY OTHERS THAT I WORKED WITH DURING THOSE LONG DAYS.
As you can tell, I am passionate about my home. When someone endorses my campaign, I immediately think in my head “I can’t ever let them down.” Rhetoric like “drain the local swamp” has been used by supporters of my opponent during this race. I find this offensive. Hays County is not a swamp, we are nothing like Washington D.C. We are one of the finest places to live and raise a family on this earth. That is why we are here. That is why I want my 9 old year daughter, Katheleen, to be able to do what I did and want to raise her family here. For that to happen, we have to stay diligent. We are the one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S. Along with growth will come opportunity but also many challenges. WE MUST PROTECT OUR QUALITY OF LIFE, OUR VALUES, AND OUR NATURAL RESOURCES. WE MUST PLAN FOR THE FUTURE TO ENSURE OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN CAN LIVE IN THE HAYS COUNTY THAT WE KNOW AND LOVE.
When I was ten years old and attending Travis Elementary School off of Post Road in San Marcos, our school organized a mock presidential election. I organized the re-election campaign for President Ronald Reagan against Walter Mondale. President Reagan overwhelmingly won our school election (though one student did write-in a vote for his grandmother). I took pride in being part of something that seemed so meaningful to me at a young age. My Grandfather worked on a county precinct road crew and was also the County Democratic Party Chairman for many years. There were no Republicans in his county back then, and it is safe to say he was a Conservative Democrat. My determination that I was a Republican at an early age resulted in endless debates with him, I always smile when I think of our time together. I remember visiting him when I was a senior in high school and my grandmother had passed away. I was one of the youngest grandchildren of many and grew up sleeping with my grandparents in their bed or on the floor next to them when I visited on holidays and in the summer. Though the house was fairly empty, I found myself lying in his bed that evening listening to him talk about his pride in his country and an occasional joke about Dan Quayle.
Following the end of World War II, my wife’s mother emigrated from Russia as a small child with her family to escape communism. They made a treacherous pilgrimage from a Siberian work camp in seek of freedom. My wife’s grandmother, “Babushka,” spoke of waking up on the deck of the USS Marine Marlin, looking up, and seeing the Statue of Liberty. Their family of four had two wooden boxes that held everything they owned. Those boxes went with them as they made their way from a port in Germany to Ellis Island, then to Maryland and eventually to Wilmington, Delaware. One of the boxes is in my house, and it constantly reminds me of what true sacrifice is and what a great country we live in.
After less than 4 months as your Commissioner I have been called the “Establishment.” If dedicating the last seven years of my life to this County makes me the “Establishment,” then so be it. If supporting our Law Enforcement, our veterans, and caring about the safety of our children, families, and friends makes me the “Establishment,” then so be it. If being a conservative Republican all of my life makes me the “Establishment,” then so be it. If believing we live in the best country in the world makes me the “Establishment,” then so be it.
Rhetoric will not deter me, deception can always be refuted with facts, and I am confident the truth will prevail. You have my promise that I will always fight for what is best for our community.
I WOULD APPRECIATE THE OPPORTUNITY TO CONTINUE TO WORK FOR YOU, IT HAS TRULY BEEN THE HONOR OF MY LIFE.
God bless you,
Lon A. Shell
Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner