Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lawmaker Files a Property-Tax Relief Bill. Can It Actually Work This Time?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Senate Bill 2 author Paul Bettencourt: "The stories about what has actually been happening to taxpayers at appraisal districts across the state demand immediate changes in how taxpayers are treated." - COURTESY OF PAUL BETTENCOURT'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy of Paul Bettencourt's office
  • Senate Bill 2 author Paul Bettencourt: "The stories about what has actually been happening to taxpayers at appraisal districts across the state demand immediate changes in how taxpayers are treated."
If you've ever gone down to the local appraisal district to protest your home's assessed value in front of the appraisal review board, there's a good chance that you didn't leave the staid government building in shackles.

But that scenario actually happened, according to Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt, after an ordinary homeowner and taxpayer inquired about his home's increased property-tax bill.

"We have record tape of a gentleman coming to a hearing. He goes up to a counter and asks a question. He ends up in handcuffs and his face pushed against a window because he was asking questions," says Sen. Bettencourt. "Now, when we get to that point, that means we've got an adversarial property tax system that needs to be fixed."

Along with a beefed-up watch over appraisal review boards, Senate Bill 2, filed by the Houston lawmaker on Tuesday ahead of the 2017 Texas State Legislature, will attempt to rein in skyrocketing property tax rates.

According to Bettencourt's office, average residential property-tax appraisals have shot up 36 percent in Harris County over the past three years, 22 to 24 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth over two years, 20 percent in San Antonio over two years and 12 percent per year in Austin for three consecutive tax years.

“Texas taxpayers have been facing property tax bills that are increasing 2.5 to 3 times faster than median household income,” said Bettencourt, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief in a prepared statement. “Throughout Texas, in hearing after hearing, the Select Committee heard the same message loud and clear: Texans are asking for and deserve property tax relief.

"Whether it was homeowners testifying that they are unable to keep up with their property tax bills, small business owners seeing their hard earned profits go out the window, or even big businesses testifying that they are locating new plants and taking jobs out of Texas due to high property taxes, they are all saying that property taxes are rising too fast in Texas,” said Bettencourt, who sculpted the bill with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) and Van Taylor (R-Plano).

The part about staunching property-tax increases could be tricky. For years, leaders of appraisal districts in Bexar and Harris counties have said that the problem is systemic, due to vague language in the state tax code; in fact, according to Bexar County Appraisal District personnel, who are currently dealing with predatory property-tax practices from the big guns, like the so-called "dark-store theory," quick fixes to the mass appraisal system just aren't going to work.

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