Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved increased property tax exemptions seniors and those who are disabled during its May 19.
Placed on the agenda by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, the item will boost property tax exemptions for both groups from where they currently sit, at $160,000 to $229,000. The exemption increase will apply to property taxes levied by the county, the Harris County Flood Control District and the Harris Health System.
The increased exemptions are on top of the optional homestead exemption Harris County already offers to all homeowners of $5,000 or 20%, whichever is greater.
"This is a good thing because people who are older and on a fixed income, we ought to give them—it's not a lot of relief—but it's some relief," Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said during the meeting.
According to commissioners, the exemption expansion is an attempt to keep up with rising property values and inflation while providing relief for homeowners during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. However, commissioners also pointed out the exemption would likely not provide relief for members of Harris County's labor force, many of whom have recently become unemployed due to the ongoing public health crisis.
"This is a shifting [of] ... who pays the taxes and we levy about $3.2 billion between these four entities, and this is about a $36 million shift, so it's about a 1% shift from everyone else to individuals who are 65 and disabled," Chief Budget Officer Bill Jackson said. "This does not actually lower or raise taxes, in total. It shifts [who's paying them]."
While Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Caglesaid he was in favor of the property tax relief, he reiterated his belief that the court needed to be mindful of its spending to avoid the relief becoming a moot point.
"I'm in favor of reducing the burden on our property taxpayers at this time," Cagle said. "I think that when we do this that we also need to be watching what we do with regard to our spending. ... We need to make sure that we don't kick the can down the road by increasing our expenditures so much that have to undo what we are doing."
For more information on property tax exemptions for Harris County homeowners, click here.