By: Lana Shadwick
HOUSTON, Texas – The Texas Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief was in Houston on Tuesday taking testimony from Texans affected by the strain of rising property taxes and the burdensome appraisal process.
“Today we heard testimony documenting a 28% taxable value increase on the average family home in Harris County,” said Chairman Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). “This means an average homeowner has faced a roughly $1,000 increase on their tax bill, or a guaranteed ten percent increase for the next three years if they have a homestead exemption. Taxpayers simply cannot sustain these types of increases.”
Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) told Breitbart Texas there was a huge turnout for the hearing. He said the committee was meeting on the University of Houston campus as the next stop in a traveling series of hearings. He said Texans expect and deserve needed changes.
Comptroller data shows that, statewide, between 2005 and 2014, property taxes rose 2.5 times faster than median household income. In Harris County (Houston area), county tax levies increased 79%, city tax levies increased 65%, and median household income increased only 29%.
As noted by Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano), “Forty-two cents of every dollar goes to government. We are on pace to pass on a county where we all work for the government and have to beg for our money back. I refuse to accept that future for my daughters.” Since 2012, Harris County property tax levies increased 43%, and City of Houston tax levies increased 29%.
Private property owners were not the only ones hit with rising taxes. Commercial valuations increased almost twenty percent across Texas in 2016.
Dow Chemical and Amazon testified about the impact of local property taxes when selecting locations. Dow chose Louisiana for their new billion dollar facility and Amazon chose North Texas over Harris County for their new million square foot fulfillment center. The reason – Harris County “has some of the highest overall tax rates in the state … and does not grant a Freeport exemption.”
As it relates to property appraisals, the committee heard from local officials. Particularly noteworthy were comments from Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan who called for a reappraisal of flood properties impacted by the April storms. Any kind of property tax valuation reappraisal would be welcome relief for the several thousand homeowners of properties impacted by these devastating storms.
Galveston Tax Assessor Cheryl Johnson discussed the growth of local government by stating, “if they need more than five percent let them go to the voters and tell them what they need.”
Senator Bettencourt also had this to say about the voice that property owners have about their taxes: “To put it into perspective just how difficult it is for taxpayers to have a say in their local government, Harris County taxpayers must spend their own money to gather almost 150,000 signatures in just 90 days to petition for a rollback election. This is equivalent to filling Reliant Stadium twice, and having every single person sign the petition, it is an impossibility.”
Harris County Chief Appraiser Sands Stiefer, and Fort Bend County Chief Appraiser Glen Whitehead, also gave testimony on increasing property valuations, unresponsive Appraisal Review Board (ARB) panels, arbitration, and excessive litigation.
Almost one-third of the Texas Senate attended the meeting. In addition to Chairman Paul Bettencourt, in attendance were committee members Senators Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Van Taylor, Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).
The Texas Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief has been traveling to cities throughout Texas to take testimony and hear from aggrieved property owners. Hearing notices and minutes and witness lists from prior meetings can be found online at this link. Future meeting dates can be found online here.
Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2