Travis County copies Austin's tax exemption policy for historic properties

The Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously adopted the City of Austin's policy for historic property tax exemptions as its own.

By doing so, the county institutes a cap on tax exemptions where there previously was not one. The cap would be whichever is greater—$2,000 or 50 percent of a property's tax responsibility.

The Commissioners Court also raised the tax exemption for property owners older than 65 from $65,000 to $70,000—reducing the county's tax revenue by roughly $900,000.

The decision followed a public hearing on the topic during the court's July 10 meeting.

Some historic property owners said the costs to maintain their homes outpaced the proposed exemption cap, and they would be less interested in keeping their designation.

The city's policy exempts 50 percent of the assessed value of the land and 100 percent of the value of the structure on an owner-occupied or nonprofit-operated historic homestead.

Commercial properties receive 25 percent of the assessed value of the land and 50 percent of the structure.

Because the City of Austin has changed its policy throughout the years, the value of the exemption could be as high as $2,500 depending on when the home was designated as historic.

Adopting the city's policy also means requiring historic property applicants to provide an affidavit proving a need for the exemption, as well as allowing annual follow-up home inspections.

Prior to the decision, the county was weighing other options, such as adopting a Local Tax Policy Workgroup proposal to cap exemptions at $2,500 minus the 20 percent homestead exemption.

Public comment

Many of the people who spoke during public comment identified themselves as historic property owners or involved in the care of historic properties.

Nancy Burns said the working group's suggested 1930-or-earlier cutoff was arbitrary. She said two years ago, the owners of The Brown Building on Colorado Street spent $2.5 million on repairs to the building's facade.

Brian Rodgers opposed the exemptions, stating that properties should establish a need for the exemptions before receiving them.

Charlie Thomas asked the county to allow current historically designated properties the option of opting out of the program should the county change its policies.

Chris Mackey said a $2,500 exemption would not be enough to keep him interested in a historic property designation.

He said he spent 125 hours and $3,500 rebuilding a railing on his historic house that may have taken him 20 hours and $500 to replace if he had an undesignated property.

"Old houses are expensive to maintain. If the county no longer wants to help the property owners with those expenses, some of them will go away, and the neighborhoods will be changed substantially. Some neighborhoods will change quite a bit," he said.

Other public speakers said that not all historic property owners were wealthy or from West Austin, and that the exemptions were needed to help the owners remain in their homes.



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