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City needs input from residents

We thought someone would speak up during Denton’s first public hearing on the 2013-14 budget Tuesday night.

After all, planned expenditures include a rate hike for all the city’s utility customers and officials are proposing 48 new hires and pay raises for employees. Officials said the budget plan also shifts more money toward street maintenance and reconstruction.

One would think that proposals like those would draw a crowd of residents to comment.

But to our surprise, no one spoke, except Chuck Springer, the city’s finance director, who helped open the public hearing with a brief summary of next year’s budget plan.

Dozens of seats were filled — people came to hear proclamations in support of Women’s Right to Vote Week, for the League of Women Voters, and Live United Month, in support of United Way, and Miss Texas 2013, who attends graduate school at Texas Woman’s University.

About a dozen people lingered because their properties were affected by a Denton Municipal Electric power line to be built in the northeast part of the city.

Those folks deserve credit for taking the time and making the effort to attend the meeting.

But we’re still wondering why no taxpayers cared enough to comment on the budget proposal.

We’ve heard all the excuses — “no one listens anyway,” “why should I bother to speak when they ignore my comments” and “it doesn’t matter what people think, they’re going to do what they want to do.”

Yes, we’ve heard all of those and more, and we’ve grown weary of listening. Why is it that taxpayers are so quick to point the finger of guilt and lodge accusations and complaints — until the city opens a hearing and calls for speakers to step up and be a part of the process?

Granted, the impact of budget proposals on local residents would be small.

The average Denton household would pay $232.71 per month for electric, water, sewer and trash services, up from $226 per month this year, after the rate increases proposed for next year are adopted, Springer said.

The average property tax bill this year will be $1,083, compared to $1,065 last year. The city does not plan to change the property tax rate from 68.975 cents per $100 valuation, but the increase in the average home value, which is based on the market, could mean many Denton homeowners ultimately will pay more.

But that’s not the point. If we don’t participate in budget hearings, the time may come when the opportunity is not provided.

To mimic one of the excuses for not commenting: “Why should we provide time for public comment when no one shows up?”

Sure, laws require elected officials to meet and discuss the people’s business in open session, but laws can be changed.

In our view, the lack of interest in the public hearing on the budget is an alarming sign of apathy — no matter which side of the issue you support.

People shouldn’t attend public hearings only to complain — it’s just as important to comment when you support proposals. The city needs to know where you stand.

And when it comes to that excuse about no one listening anyway — there’s a solution for that, too, and it’s called voting.