Police, fire, county and city officials still against Texas property tax reform bill

Police, fire, county and city officials oppose Texas property tax reform bill (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Police, fire, county and city officials oppose Texas property tax reform bill (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A crowd of public officials came to the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday to say Senate Bill 2, while different from its original version, is still a bad idea.

SB2, the Property Tax Reform & Relief Act of 2017, would provide more information to property taxpayers about appraisal rates and mandate how local government officials set their tax rates. However, local officials see other measures of the bill as a cap on their overall budget.

Right now, taxpayers can petition for an election to rollback local taxes if their taxes are increased by more than 8 percent. SB2 would call for an automatic election at 8 percent and allow for taxpayers to petition at around 5 percent, which are less strict requirements than what the Senate proposed.

The rollback tax rate is calculated to allow Maintenance and Operations tax revenues to grow by up to 8 percent each year from the prior year. This also limits how much property tax revenue can increase before voters can petition to keep their taxes from increasing by 8 percent.

Patrick McGuinness from the Travis County Taxpayers Union says there are two main reasons people voted down a Round Rock ISD bond package a few days ago: property taxes are too high already and voters felt like they didn’t have enough accurate information.

“The fact is, a lot of times this is happening without their knowledge. They just see the tax bill and they go ‘what happened?'” said McGuinness.

SB2 is more than halfway through the legislative process and local government officials testified Wednesday to stop it.

“Fifteen million dollars–which is what we would be putting at risk from this bill. $15 million is a big piece of a budget that mostly goes to public safety,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Adler originally said a lower cap would “limit the City of Austin’s ability to fund essential city services.” According to the city of Austin, the proposal would result in a tax cut of $2.69 for the average homeowner in Austin but it will cut $15.4 million from the city budget.

Mayors from all over the state say they’ll police and fire departments will always be staffed, but other services could face potential cuts.

“We would have to look at transportation, roads… potentially not twice a week garbage pickup but once a week,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.

In November 2016, a Select Committee, using data from the Comptroller’s Office, determined that city and county property tax levies have increased twice as fast as median household incomes since 2005. Much of the discussion circled around what can be considered a tax increase. One homeowner testified that an increased appraisal is in effect, a tax increase.

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