It’s time for homeowners to get busy and fight sticker shock with the tools they have available.
Yes, we know you’re incensed that your property taxes seem to go up every year. You’re angry that lawmakers have seemingly done little about it.
Long term you can join the brewing political battle that will hit Austin like a concussion bomb when the state legislature meets in January.
WHAT TO DO NOW
In the short term — by May 15 — you should channel your frustration into filing a tax protest if you believe the county valued your property at more than it would typically sell for. It’s your best option for whittling down your tax payment this year.
Jeff Law, the chief tax appraiser in Tarrant County, says last year nearly half of Tarrant property owners who protested got some relief. So your chances are much better than playing the lottery.
In a recent article, Star-Telegram reporter Anna Tinsley walked through the process for filing a protest. You can fill out and mail the form you received with your tax notice or check out the online filing options at www.tad.org.
Be ready to do some legwork if you want a break.
Law suggests you provide appraisal or home sale documents if you have them. Get estimates that show what it would cost to repair your roof, foundation, or other big-ticket items. Present photos showing your home needs significant upgrades or improvements.
APPLY FOR EXEMPTIONS
Another step you should take now is to inform the appraisal district if you qualify for exemptions that can knock a bundle off your bill.
If you live in your home you probably qualify for a tidy homestead exemption. Make sure you apply for it.
You may also be eligible for additional property tax discounts if you’re 65 or older; a surviving spouse; or disabled. Tarrant County has a handy online calculator that will help you estimate your savings.
Now, for the longer term political fight.
LONG-TERM TAX FIGHT
Battle lines over lowering taxes are already being drawn as state lawmakers prepare for the legislative session beginning in January.
We don’t agree with Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for all local government units - including cities, counties, and school districts - to limit the annual increase in their property tax revenue by 2.5 percent.
One size doesn’t fit all, and after years of reducing the state’s portion of school funding, lawmakers have no right to tell districts they can’t collect the local money they need to properly educate children.
We do think state lawmakers should change rules in a way that would allow local governing bodies to offer additional tax assistance to the homeowners who need it most.
County Judge Glen Whitley says that right now, for example, Tarrant is allowed to reduce the homestead value it taxes by a percentage, but not a dollar amount, which would more directly help those with modestly priced homes.
Tarrant could, for example, provide a 20 percent homestead exemption. With that, someone owning a $200,000 home would forego county taxes on $40,000 worth of property. But owners of a $1 million home would get a giant break. They’d be spared county taxes on $200,000.
“Millionaires don’t need the help,” said Whitley, though he believes many lower- and middle-income owners do. He says the legislature has refused to offer the additional exemptions in a way that would best help those struggling with property taxes. He promises to be back in Austin next year to argue for that change again.
We also want state lawmakers to seriously look at it. Then we want our local governments, even the school districts, to consider offering this type of additional savings.
We should note that some of our local bodies already offer property tax exemptions or discounts that go beyond what the state requires.
The cities of Arlington, Fort Worth, Grapevine, Euless and Southlake are on that list.
Crowley ISD gives an extra homestead exemption and several area school districts provide additional exemptions for senior citizens and disabled people.
Property tax creep is not a figment of your imagination. The Texas A&M Real Estate Center says the average home in Fort-Worth-Arlington is valued at nearly 23 percent more now than it was three years ago. The average price of $201,135 has risen to $246,674.
Law says if that home sits in Fort Worth the tax bill without exemptions is about $1,100 more than it was in 2015. It’s real money and real pain for a lot of people.
We want a long-term fix, too. In the meantime, though, file a tax protest if you believe you’re entitled to it.