Author: Mark Lehman
In Lehman’s Terms
American poet Carl Sandburg once reflected on the creeping of fog, how it “comes on little cat feet.” That type of stealth is fine for the weather but not for Texas property-tax policy.
Many Texans get sticker shock from their property-tax bills. They get an even bigger shock when they discover that their local taxing jurisdiction—municipality, county, school district—raised tax rates without their knowledge.
Members of the Texas Legislature have heard the outcry from Texans. You want a more transparent process and stricter requirements to approve tax-rate increases. This year, legislators took a major step to address this issue.
Effective Jan. 1, 2016, a local taxing unit must have a supermajority to approve a property-tax rate increase. That means at least 60% of the unit’s members must vote in favor of the increase. Furthermore, all property-tax changes will be posted in an easily accessible and consumer-friendly manner.
This new law didn’t get a lot of attention last session but could have a significant impact on your wallet. Taxing jurisdictions will no longer be able to hide behind voice votes, simple majorities, and ambiguous public notices to increase tax rates.
Each year tens of thousands of Texans show up at central appraisal district offices to protest the values assessed on their property. But almost no one attends the budget hearings where property-tax rates are set. This new law enables citizens to take a more active role in setting their tax rates and helps them understand why their elected officials feel a rate increase is necessary.
We know taxes are necessary for communities to fund government services. However, increases should be done in a judicious, transparent manner—not approved in a stealthy manner, creeping up on little cat feet.
Mark Lehman is vice president of governmental affairs at the Texas Association of REALTORS®.