Property tax reforms emerge in pre-filed bills

Bettencourt Sen. Paul Bettencourt filed SB 2 on Nov. 29 to alter the way property taxes are assessed.[/caption]

Plans to reform the property tax process for cities and counties in Texas are starting to solidify as lawmakers prepare for the 85th Legislative Session in January.

Just over a year ago, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick charged Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and his fellow members of the Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief with finding solutions to rising property taxes. In the past 11 months, the committee held eight hearings across the state, heard over 50 hours of public testimony and created recommendations for Senate Bill 2, The Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017, filed by Bettencourt Nov. 29.

Bettencourt said the work done between now and the last session greatly influenced his bill.

“Fifty hours of public testimony has never been taken before in this manner, but the need for property tax relief is clear to Texas taxpayers that see their property tax bills rising faster than their paychecks year after year,” Bettencourt said.

The bill includes a proposal to lower the property tax rollback rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. If enacted, the bill would require an election on the soonest general election date for any proposal by a city or county taxing entity to raise the tax rollback rate by more than 4 percent.

Other proposals included in this bill include:

  • Mandating all members of each appraisal district board of directors be elected officials within their respective counties so they are directly answerable to the citizens

  • Establishing specialized ARB panels that can hear more complex taxpayer protests in counties with populations exceeding 120,000 citizens

  • Eliminating Sunday ARB hearings and evening ARB hearings beginning after 7 p.m. or before 5 p.m.

The full text of the bill can be viewed here.

On Tuesday, the Texas Municipal League denounced the bill’s recommendations as a “direct assault on public safety, economic development and transportation that will produce no noticeable tax reduction for homeowners.”

Bennett Sandlin, the executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said the largest budget item for every Texas city is public safety and that supporting the restrictions for city funding that this bill would cause directly contradicts support of first responders.

“Locally elected officials are accountable to voters for taxing and spending decisions every time they run for election,” Sandlin said. “Politicians in Austin should not impose arbitrary and punitive state restrictions on the ability of locally elected city officials to budget for the needs of their communities, especially when the safety of our citizens is at stake.”

Other pieces of legislation seeking to adjust property tax policy have been filed by Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, in HB 455 and Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Rosenberg, in HB 167.

Metcalf’s bill examines the property tax protest process and would allow residents to protest over the phone.

Bell’s bill seeks to limit the amount that a property’s value can be increased in a given year.