Politics & Government

‘Texans are being crushed by property taxes,’ Abbott says in urging relief

Housing valuations are on the rise.
Housing valuations are on the rise. Star-Telegram

Texas property owners: Gov. Greg Abbott has heard your concerns and agrees you need a break.

Declaring that “Texans are being crushed by property taxes,” Abbott called on state lawmakers Tuesday to develop a plan to bring them relief.

“Their property tax bills often increase far faster than household income,” Abbott told a joint meeting of House and Senate members in his State of the State address.

“No government should be able to tax people out of their homes,” he said. “Texans should not stand for it. We must remember: property owners are not renting their land from the city.”

That’s why Abbott called on lawmakers to develop property tax reform that includes preventing cities from raising property taxes without voter approval, which is similar to a provision in the already introduced Senate Bill 2.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed another plan this week to help with the effort.

Her proposal, Senate Bill 669, would help reform the property tax appraisal process by boosting education requirements for appraisers and setting term limits for those who serve on Appraisal Review Boards.

“This legislation will strengthen the rights of taxpayers and make the appraisal process fair, accountable and more transparent,” said Nelson, whose district includes portions of Tarrant County.

Property values — and the tax bills that come with him — have been a rising concern for Texans as hot housing markets have caused property valuations to spike.

The Texas Legislature runs through May 29 this year.

In Tarrant County last year, appraisals in some neighborhoods jumped 12 percent. And Tarrant Appraisal District Chief Appraiser Jeff Law has already said another hefty increase in property values could come this year.

“There is a revolt brewing in Texas over soaring property tax bills that are neither realistic nor sustainable,” said James Quintero, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Local Governance. “In 2015, Texas’ 4,171 local governments walloped homeowners and businesses for more than $52 billion in property taxes, or about $1,900 for every man, woman, and child in the Lone Star State.

“As mammoth an amount as that is, trends suggest that the burden is likely to get heftier still.”

Proposed changes

Last year, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed a broad property tax reform and relief bill — SB2 — that touches on issues such as making it easier for taxpayers to challenge rising tax rates through ratification elections and increasing the accountability of appraisal district officials. State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, is a co-author.

A provision requiring counties or cities to get voter approval for any property tax rate increase larger than 4 percent drew quick concern from local officials who fear it could hamper their ability to pay for needed services. The current 8 percent cap has let the city “do what we needed to do,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has said.

The Texas Municipal League, which is opposed to SB 2, has no position on Nelson’s bill, which addresses procedures, said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the group.

Nelson’s bill proposes several changes, such as requiring more education and training programs for arbitrators and Appraisal Review Board members and setting term limits for review board members in large counties.

It would also let board members, rather than the board of directors, choose the chairman; make sure appraisal districts give protesters any evidence used at a hearing and prevent its use if the taxpayer didn’t receive it first; and prevent review boards from hiking property values higher than listed in the notification.

The proposal also gives homeowners more chances to give feedback about review boards, requires hearing orders to be issued in 15 days, makes sure review boards note the recommended value of property to taxpayers at the end of a hearing and lets hearings be postponed if appraisal districts violate state law.

‘The only good tax’

Tarrant County Tax-Assessor Collector Ron Wright particularly praised the term limits, noting that members now can serve their terms, stay off the board one year, and then come back and serve again. Nelson’s bill would end that.

He also said the proposed 15-day period to send out orders is a good thing and noted that additional education might help appraisal review board members.

“I don’t know what it will take for ARV members to treat people with respect and dignity, but maybe more training would help them get there,” Wright said.

Last year, hundreds of property owners worried about rising taxes attended a day-long public hearing in Arlington conducted by the Texas Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief.

“As far as I’m concerned, the only good tax is a dead tax,” Abbott said.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

In the spring of 2016, the Tarrant Appraisal District pulled an exemption on an elderly couple that triggered a foreclosure on their home. The couple was told to move out after the house was put up for auction on the courthouse steps.

Property tax specialist Mandi Chance scans property tax checks at the Tarrant County Administration Office in Fort Worth.

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