"Every homeowner I know would love to see a 40 percent reduction in their home appraisal. Instead they’re seeing an average increase of over 12 percent in Travis County this year. Many report increases much higher than that. This broken system is hurting families and literally driving them out of their homes."
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BRIGID SHEA SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR
Earlier this month, on the Fourth of July, we celebrated our nation’s Declaration of Independence from the British, sparked by unfair taxation. How ironic then, that Austin’s celebration took place at a business that is suing to avoid paying its fair share of property taxes.
According to the Statesman, Circuit of the Americas is arguing in court that “the $7 million plus property tax bill they receive in January is more than 21 times higher than it should be.” As one protester’s sign at the fireworks said, “COTA = Cheap On Tax Appraisals.”
Circuit of the Americas’ effort to cut its property tax appraisal by more than 60 percent is even more galling given the public largess they’ve received: $25 million-plus a year for 10 years in sales tax revenue from the region; a $14 million electric substation, paid for by ratepayers; $13 million in water and wastewater lines, paid for by water customers; and $21.6 million and counting from Travis County taxpayers for roads. And now they’re arguing in court that their property tax bill should be $2.7 million instead of $7.3 million. They could easily pay their bill out of their sales tax rebates alone.
Circuit of the Americas’ overreach couldn’t come at a worse time. Homeowners are suffering under dramatic increases in their property tax appraisals, while a growing number of big businesses are under-appraised. As stated in a headline on the Statesman’s Sept. 29 article, “You pay more, they pay less ... Texas’ tax appraisal system benefits commercial properties, shifting a greater burden to homeowners.” According to a new grass-roots movement called Real Values for Texas, “Big commercial property owners exploit loopholes in property tax law to knock an average 40 percent off their tax bill.” This number is confirmed by the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts and the Houston Chronicle.
Every homeowner I know would love to see a 40 percent reduction in their home appraisal. Instead they’re seeing an average increase of over 12 percent in Travis County this year. Many report increases much higher than that. This broken system is hurting families and literally driving them out of their homes. After campaigning door-to-door for five months, I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve told me they have to sell and move away because their appraisals have gone up so much.
And it’s not just hurting individual families — it’s destroying the very fabric of our communities. The next shoe to drop on this issue will be school closures, which are devastating to neighborhoods. For the first time in many years, the Austin school district lost enrollment this past year. Their own research indicated the major reason for families moving out of the district was that they couldn’t afford to stay in Austin. Numerous teachers have told me of layoffs at neighborhood schools because of declining enrollment. As families are pushed further out, their longer commutes make the traffic worse.
That’s why so many of us have urged the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council to take action. While they didn’t do as much as we wanted, they’ve begun the process of challenging the broken appraisal system. We’ve also pushed other candidates and the political parties to action.
Our own Sen. Kirk Watson is taking the lead on this issue in the upcoming legislative session and has laid out a proposal. Democratic comptroller candidate Mike Collier is tackling the issue, as is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. We took the issue to the Democratic State Convention and they included it in the party platform: “Reforming the property tax appraisal system to guaranty uniform appraisals and eliminate the loopholes that allow business, mineral and commercial properties to be taxed at far below market value, which shifts the burden onto homeowners.”
Join the effort to support a more equitable system of funding local services at http://realvaluesfortexas.org
SHEA IS THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR TRAVIS COUNTY COMMISSIONER, PRECINCT 2.