Following demands for tax relief from residents reeling from the effects of COVID-19, Montgomery County commissioners have agreed to a slight decrease in the tax rate.

Commissioners approved an effective tax rate of $0.4312 per $100 valuation for fiscal year 2020-21—a 3.5% decrease from the prior year—and a $350 million budget at a Sept. 8 court meeting.

The lower tax rate includes an additional draw-down of its fund balance, meaning that the county will need to pull from its savings to offset its lower revenue, officials said.

The lower tax rate was met with applause by those in attendance. The meeting followed weeks of budget talks, where commissioners had proposed various tax rates, including a rate of $0.4319 per $100 valuation and a rate of $0.4412 per $100 valuation.

An effective tax rate, or a no-new-revenue tax rate, generates an amount of tax revenue equal to that of the past year and can be lowered annually as local property valuations increase.

Although commissioners had approved the proposed tax rate of $0.4412 per $100 valuation—which was a 1.41% decrease over the rate of $0.4475 per $100 valuation adopted last summer for FY 2019-20—at a July 31 meeting, citizens had expressed concerns that they would not actually receive tax relief, as a homeowner may still wind up with a higher tax bill if their property value increases, regardless of a lower tax rate.

Prior to the board’s vote, citizens pleaded with commissioners for a tax break, citing rises appraisals and tough economic conditions due to COVID-19. One couple reported a 22% increase in their appraised value this year, and others raised concerns back in April over what they called a “cash grab,” or raising values during a pandemic.

County resident Dennis Tibbs accused commissioners of playing into the “good old boy system,” alleging commissioners benefited from lower appraised values because they are elected officials. According to public records from the appraisal district, commissioners themselves received lower tax rates this year—roughly a 3% decrease, on average—and in some cases, their tax rates had decreased over a few years.

“Before we start raising taxes, we need to look at getting some equity in the appraisals,” Tibbs said. “Our taxes are way higher than yours.”

Although citizens alleged a “sweetheart deal” at the meeting, Community Impact Newspaper has not immediately found any evidence to indicate county appraisers are knowingly helping elected officials, and commissioners expressed dismay at the allegations.

“If someone feels like elected officials are receiving special treatment, I highly encourage them to ... talk to [our county attorney] to look into this,” Commissioner James Noack said. “I can assure you, I’m not doing a damn thing to influence what my appraised value comes back at.”

County Judge Mark Keough also said county officials have a right—as do citizens—to protest their appraisals. He further noted that one of his properties actually received a higher appraisal this year than it did last year.