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Competition is good, except when it isn’t

I honestly don’t get this.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

As the Houston City Council prepares to vote Wednesday on whether to make its longtime back-tax collector share the lucrative work with a rival, city officials are getting ample pushback from the man responsible for collecting the taxes.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan is not the only one opposed to the idea, which he dubbed a “cramdown” from the city. Texas’ dominant collection vendor for local governments and the city’s collector of property taxes for three decades, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, is not keen on loosening its grip.


If the City Council approves Wednesday, Perdue would get a batch of the city’s delinquent accounts, estimated at about 3 percent of the total delinquent tax roll. The accounts would be drawn from three school districts for which Perdue already collects.

If one firm outperforms the other, it will be rewarded with more accounts to collect. Houston is moving to this “competitive” approach in all its collections in hopes of increasing revenue, City Attorney David Feldman said.

“They are both good firms, they both offer good service,” Feldman said. “It really comes down to a question of competition.”

Hogwash, said Sullivan, whose office is responsible for collecting city property taxes and would need to accommodate the multi-vendor collections model. Feldman and Sullivan have been in talks over the idea for a year, but you would not know it from the tax man’s comments.

“This is not about competitiveness at all. It’s smoke and mirrors that Feldman is using to try to convince council members that it’s a good thing to do,” Sullivan said. “When you are given business and then you are judged on what you do or don’t do, or perform or don’t perform, that’s performance, it’s not competitiveness. It’s deceptive.”

All due respect, but I couldn’t care less who performs this function for the city. All I do care about is that the job gets done effectively. Maybe there’s a good reason why a sole provider is best, but speaking as a bystander it’s not apparent to me. I really don’t think this makes that much difference one way or the other, but for curiosity’s sake I’d be interested to see how these two firms did in a head to head contest. Who knows, maybe we’d learn something interesting.

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