County Commissioners: Blame County Property Tax Increase on Texas Legislature
SAN ANGELO, TX — “In ten years I won’t be able to afford a home.” Johnson Brown told Tom Green County Commissioners during a public hearing on the County’s proposed three cent property tax rate increase Tuesday.
Brown was one of five taxpayers who testified at length before the court opposing the proposed increase. He was referring to the increase in his property tax appraisal which comes from the Appraisal District of Tom Green County and not the Commissioner’s Court.
The appraisal district sets the value of property. The court sets a tax rate each year as does each taxing entity including cities, school districts, counties and special districts like water districts and emergency services districts which collect property tax to fund services.
County Judge Steve Floyd detailed the county’s budget process in a powerpoint presentation. Tom Green County has $9.23 billion in taxable property. After deducting the 20 percent homestead exemption and the $25,000 exemption for property owners who are over 65-years-old and all other mandatory exemptions, the county only assesses property tax on $6.49 billion.
The process for assessing and collecting property tax in Texas is complicated. In recent years, property tax values have been driven by the method of funding public schools. Basically, the Texas Legislature sets a budget every two years which includes a specific amount of funding for public schools.
Then the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts sets a value of all the property in each school district. The appraisal districts then have to assess property values within five percent of the value set by the Comptroller. Then taxing entities set a tax rate to fund the services they provide.
In Tom Green County, the fiscal year 2017 tax rate was 51.5 cents per $100 in property value. The proposed rate for fiscal year 2018 is 54.5 cents per $100. To put that into perspective, Floyd said, “The very first property tax rate assessed in 1878 in Tom Green County was 50 cents per $100 in property value.”
Some of the people at the meeting were there because Pct. 1 Commissioner Ralph Hoelscher said the County had to increase the tax rate to avoid bankruptcy during a budget hearing earlier this month.
Floyd said part of the increase comes from the cost of capital murder cases and indigent defense attorneys. County taxpayers pay for all trials held in the County. Capital murder cases are very expensive because of expert witnesses, multiple attorneys and the time it takes to bring a capital murder case to trial.
Floyd said it’s difficult to specify the exact cost of an average capital murder trial. “I’ve seen estimates from $300,000 to $3 million.”
Currently there are 15 capital murder cases pending in Tom Green County.
San Angelo taxpayer Mary Casper was the first to address the Court. “There are a lot of people who are upset that they saw the County was facing bankruptcy and giving elected officials a two percent raise at the same time.”
Casper had a copy of the proposed budget. “Why are we paying longevity pay for elected officials? Why is the budget for travel and training over $300,000?” She asked.
Floyd explained that elected officials perform a job just like appointed department heads and should be compensated the same way. He also said that the travel and training in addition to having employees and elected officials attend conferences that some of it was to bring professionals to the county to train here.
Former County Human Resources Director Terry Mobley testified that he was against the proposed tax increase while he understood the pressure of unfunded mandates from the State Legislature.
Gilbert Gallegos testified. “I have a problem with the Court getting a two percent raise.” “It’s time for leadership.” He told the Court to give the employees a pay raise but not the Court.
Grape Creek resident Chris Younts said no one wants the County to go bankrupt. “I was very confused and I’m still not real clear. Y’all are the managers of the County.” Younts said as a businessman when your going bankrupt you don’t get paid.
After two hours of testimony the Court took a short break. After the break, Floyd and the court held a wide ranging discussion with the attendees describing how the legislature had already passed a state budget that included increased school property taxes. He said lawmakers at the special session in Austin were working on a property tax relief plan that would limit how much cities and counties could raise tax rates without an automatic tax rollback election, but that plan will not affect the state budget already passed.
The Commissioners' Court has a final public hearing on the proposed property tax rate this Friday, August 18 at 6:00 p.m. on the second floor of the Keyes building, 113 W. Beauregard.