Property taxes in Texas are due each year by Jan. 31. Under this proposal, quarterly payments would be due by the last day of January, March, May and July, Budget Director Janette Weedon said at the April 8 Commissioners Court meeting.
Splitting the payments would relieve the burden on taxpayers who are already experiencing financial hardship brought on by the coronavirus, County Judge Clay Jenkins said.
“I’m just floating this as a painless way for us to provide meaningful relief and time for people who are hurting,” he said.
This option is already available to taxpayers with a senior exemption or those who are disabled. Of the 100,000 accounts that qualify, about 6,500 take advantage of the option, county Tax Assessor John Ames said.
The plan requires approval by the state Legislature, which is not scheduled to meet until Jan. 12. This means the body would have to call a special session to consider the proposal before Oct. 1, the start of FY 2020-21, Ames said.
According to Jenkins, there are ways to circumvent governor approval by incorporating the proposal into an emergency declaration. However, Ames was not convinced this was an option.
“This is not something the county has discretion to do without some kind of legislative allowance,” he said.
Dividing a single payment into four would quadruple the workload on Ames’ office and would require 12-15 additional full-time staff members, he said. The county processes over 1 million tax payments each year, but this proposal would increase that number to between 2 million and 3 million, depending on whether the offer is extended both to homes and commercial properties.
“We are more than happy to do the work if you’re willing to give me the people to get it done,” Ames said.
The county would also need buy-in from other taxing entities, such as school districts and cities, Ames said. Fiscal years for school districts begin in September, which means they would have only 25% of revenue for five months worth of expenditures, Ames said.
For this reason, several commissioners said they doubt the proposal’s viability.
“Even though the impact may be minimal for us, it may be a significant impact to those entities, especially in a time when they are losing revenue from sales tax and other revenue sources,” Commissioner Theresa Daniel said.
Ad valorem taxes are the county’s only revenue stream, Commissioner John Wiley Price said, so even if the county is receiving the same amount of revenue, it is the timing of those payments that matters, Price said.
“We live and die on cash flow,” he said. “That’s our only lifeline to run the county.”