Property Tax

Houston’s Boom Economy is pushing property tax bills out of sight!

Last year the Houston Metro Area’s “Boom” Economy created nearly an incredible 119,000 jobs, and the resulting “up” commercial and residential real estate market is the hottest one in the country. Property Tax rolls exploded based upon their January 1st, 2013 property valuations by the Harris County Appraisal District to new heights even after receiving nearly 200,000 protests; however, this Summer the Appraisal Review Boards only made small reductions in hearings. Importantly your property tax bill is the sum of all tax rates TIMES the new higher taxable values!

For example, all class “A+” Office Buildings Downtown where a lot of these new employees work in Houston saw their average values go UP by 53% in one year by HCAD! The Appraisal Review Boards reduced their value in hearings by 5% only, leaving values up an astonishing 48% net or nearly half in just one year! That’s Billions of dollars to the tax rolls of both HISD and the City of Houston, and along with all the other residential and commercial value increases pushed their entire Property Tax rolls up 11.1% and 10.6% higher respectively in just this year.

That is an astounding 138 Million more for the Houston Independent School District and 102 Million more into the City of Houston Coffers when Taxpayers pay the bills by the January 31st, 2014 Tax bill due date. Because of left over tax rate capacity from the Texas Legislature, HISD proposed another 4 pennies of TAX RATE increase that would drive the total tax revenue increase to nearly 180 Million dollars more less allowances for refunds, nearly a 15% INCREASE!!

That’s where your “Taxman” stepped in to ask for tax relief for all taxpayers because adding that much rate increase on top of a huge appraised valuation hike is like throwing gasoline on Taxpayer’s checkbooks! I presented the evidence of these increases using the Harris County Tax Office last estimates already provided the financial departments of both HISD, the City of Houston, and every other major taxing jurisdiction in Harris County.

I could tell at the meeting that the seven attending HISD Trustees had not seen the revised figures, as a lively debate took hold of the meeting for nearly an hour. It would of helped the Taxpayers’ cause for trustee Greg Meyers to have shown up as he is a known budget “hawk” at the district, but that role fell to Trustee Harvin Moore who spoke up clearly and established in questions to the district’s CFO that revenue estimates had gone up from 6%, to 8%, to finally that night 10% up over last year’s property tax collections!

Based upon that answer trustee Moore offered an admendment to reduce the increase by a penny saving District Taxpayers 12 Million Dollars in their pockets. The astounding thing or two about all this for the reader to consider is:

1) No where in established print media, or on the Internet has anyone published the overwhelming facts that HISD is getting 168 Million more dollars more in Property Tax Revenues much less the City getting 102 Million more dollars!

2) It took two folks, myself and Tammy Bettencourt from the BOMA trade organization (No relation to the Taxman), coming to the HISD tax rate vote to bring this to light. A couple of good local TV news organizations carried these record Property Tax Bill increases, with one anchor women remarking, “Why not, every one is interested in Taxes!”

What happened at the City of Houston Council chamber is even more perplexing! Only one city council member Helena Brown in District A, had the courage to stand up against Mayor Parker, to vote NO a record 102 Million, 10.6% Property Tax Increase in just one year. Unlike HISD, the City of Houston Administration wouldn’t even recognize the obivious fact that their numbers were 34 Million dollars too low, and they were clearly over collecting on the Budget.

Immediately Houston Mayoral Candidate Ben Hall and at-large City Council Candidate Micheal Kubosh called for a two penny tax rate cut to keep that 34 Million Dollars in Taxpayers pocketbooks not the City Coffers! Hopefully next year’s council will understand that truth-in-taxation starts with telling all the folks how much more they are really going to pay on their property tax bills. Oh and if 10% more revenue is not enough for a rate cut, maybe it will take the Mayor and city council taking 15% or 20% more monies a year before they finally agree to lower the rate? When will it end?

The Public needs to be told in advance in plain English by effective truthfully public notices and unbiased serious media coverage how much more of their money is really flowing into Governmental coffers. Houston City Controller Candidate Bill Frazer, a current CPA and past president of the Houston CPA Society has said he believes the City of Houston has understated their Property Tax Revenue SINCE 2006 in his opinion, to avoid having Propositions passed by the public in 2004 from automatically cutting the proposed tax rate down as the appraised values go up rapidly in the city.

Next year, due to a record 28 Months of Market Sales Activity, Houston Home values will explode 10% or more almost wherever you own a home in the Greater Houston Area. At that point I expect the public to take this issue seriously, and alot more members of Houston City Council should be willing to listen to the message to cut property tax rates!

It means that government is going to get use to taking 10% more in property tax two years in a row, and that is the beings of Bad Public Policy decisions all around. To be sure, HISD like many Texas School Districts doesn’t keep all the local property tax revenues they collect as due to so called “Robin-Hood” school financing formulas. However, what does happen is that local property taxpayers pay more each year, and the State of Texas lowers what state aid it sends HISD backing up Billions of Dollars yearly in the State Treasury if you include all school districts in the state over a two year biennium budget. There is a lot to do both locally and in Austin trying to get these property tax bill increases under control, and you’ll find your “Taxman” doing his best on both ends for our hard-pressed Taxpayers!

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Until then the bottom line is we can’t let even local government grow at 10% a year, otherwise the cost to the Taxpayers doubles in just seven years. That’s at least twice as fast as population and inflation rates combined, and what will happen is that your can pay off your Banker’s 30 year Mortgage on your Home, but you will never pay off the Government Taxman. Sign-up on facebook page and look for more updates from the Texas Conservative Review on this important truly pocket book issue for all Texans!

By Paul Bettencourt, Former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Current Candidate for Texas Senate District 7