Emergency responders announce opposition to property tax bill

Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom, president of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, speaks at a press conference during the special session in opposition of Senate Bill 1. August 9, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom, president of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, speaks at a press conference during the special session in opposition of Senate Bill 1. August 9, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Lawmakers will vote on Saturday to determine how much power cities will have to raise or lower taxes

Senate Bill 1 would trigger a vote for property tax rate increases over 6 percent.

Proponents of the bill aim to lower property taxes. In a July 22 public hearing in the Select Committee on Government Reform, Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, held a stack of more than 400 letters from constituents worrying about property tax increases.

“The purpose of government is not to tax us out of our homes, and that’s what’s happening now,” Taylor said that day.

Ahead of that vote in the Texas House, a group of first responders from across the state joined together to advocate against the legislation.

Smaller cities and counties have come out in opposition, saying property taxes fund many crucial departments.

“This type of cutback would actually kill us,” Prairie View Mayor David Allen said Wednesday. “It would be devastating.”

“Our law enforcement protects literally close to about half of the student population [of Prairie View A&M] because they live in the city,” Allen continued. He said his city does not have anywhere to trim, if faced with cuts in funding.

“We fix the potholes, we keep the toilets flushing, those type of things would be devastating if we have cutbacks, since the majority of our revenue comes from property taxes.”

In a sea of blue, several law enforcement officials gathered with city and county leaders from around Texas to voice their concerns.

“The ability for us to make the calls, that’s important for our citizens here in Texas, whether you’re rural or whether you’re urban,” Jackson County Sheriff AJ “Andy” Louderback said.

Louderback is also the legislative director of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas.

Gary Johnson, Roanoke police chief and first vice president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, stated, “Without this ability for cities to properly find us, and hire the people we need, we are always going to be behind the curve.”

A request for comment from Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, was not returned as of Wednesday evening.

Bettencourt defended the proposed law in that July hearing, which lasted more than nine hours. He said tax relief was necessary for homeowners and taxpayers:

Senate Bill 1 addresses what Texans already know: property taxes are rising too quickly. The data is conclusive that we have seen an unprecedented explosion in property tax bills throughout the state.  Over just three years, the average home in Harris County has seen county property tax bills increase 36 percent, while the average home in Dallas County and Bexar County have seen a 25 percent and 24 percent increase respectively.  On the city side over the same period, Houston has seen city property tax bills for the average home increase 25 percent, Fort Worth saw an increase of 21 percent, Sugar Land increased by 25 percent, Plano saw a 22 percent property tax increase, and this trend continues all over the state.

The question is not what government can afford, the question is can taxpayers afford government.”

Live Oak Mayor Mary Dennis, who serves as president of the Texas Municipal League, explained state-imposed restrictions on city revenue spending would negatively impact the “ability to protect our citizens.”

“Public Safety is the largest expenditure in all Texas [city] budgets,” Dennis stated. “The state provides practically no funding to us. Some state officials seem to think they should have control over the cities, but without any of the responsibility for the vital services like emergency services, streets, waste collection, water, and sewer.”

Dennis added that a “one size fits all” method would not work for tax reform.

“Every city in Texas is different, and that’s a good thing,” she said. “What works in Dallas or Houston won’t work in every city in Texas. That’s why the state should not try to micromanage every city and override the decisions made by the voters at the local level.”

SB 1 was scheduled for a House vote on Saturday. If passed, it would head to the governor’s desk.

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