A TAXING ISSUE: Jump in appraisals, "Deep Freeze" bills have government leaders talking tax rates

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Posted at 5:16 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 20:55:15-04

Our government leaders don't usually start talking openly about tax rates until sometime in the summer.

However, the "Texas Deep Freeze" this past winter, along with another big jump in property appraisals, has many openly concerned about a taxing issue.

Just as she prepared to drive over this pothole, Melissa Ortiz stopped to take in the neighborhood around it.

Then a taxing issue hit her thanks to rising property values and the taxes that often follow.

"It's a good area but taxes need to be reasonable. Of course, they should. I mean everybody does believe that it should be something that we can afford," said Ortiz, of West.

This year, nature threw us a serious curveball, in a January winter blast, the week-long ice and snow event, we've come to know as the "Texas Deep Freeze".

It's why many of our leaders have begun openly talking budget and tax rates months ahead of schedule.

The bills stemming from the Texas deep freeze, provide only one reason for this early talk about taxes. This taxing issue goes way beyond that and lands at the very foundation of government finance, our property taxes.

More and more of us worry about property appraisals that, in some places, can jump 15% in just a year, because home values and property taxes go hand in hand.

This year, folks that fear getting priced out of their homes on taxes alone, have even more to worry about.

Governments have more pressure than ever on them to demand more from us, to pay the fuel costs for Bryan's power plant at $27 million.

Or in Killeen where the ice left its roads crumbling and the price tag? A whopping $40 million, extra costs almost nobody anticipated.

"You sat in on a couple of hours I think of our budget discussion," Bell County Judge David Blackburn reminded me last fall.

I sure did and found Bell County leaders, like many governments, can squeeze a penny until it squeals and then some.

"We need to be extremely, almost ruthlessly efficient with the dollars that we have so that tax rate can be as low as it can be," said Judge Blackburn, who proudly told me, his Commissioner's Court has lowered the tax rate every year for the last decade.

With a median 10% jump in property values this year in his neck of the woods, 11 should present no problem even if the court doesn't cut as much as he'd like.

Meantime, Texas lawmakers have limited how much cities can raise property taxes or profit from big increases in appraisals

That doesn't help much after a rare ice storm just turned your roads to rocks.

"It's this looks like little explosions," said Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra, describing Killeen's $40 million road problem, which may need some out-of-the-box thinking.

"You know you can only squeeze so much and so you're gonna have to go out and figure out okay what are other ways that we can raise revenue," he said.

His favorite solution right now is another kind of tax, most call a "user fee".

A charge over which the Mayor says, Austin has absolutely no control.

"We do have what they call a street maintenance fee. Where people pay, like $1.70 a month, and that usually gives us about $2 million a year," he explained.

He says, a hike of about $5 more a month could pave the way for better roads for years to come all without affecting property taxes.

While the government keeps a running total on storm damage, other regular costs go up too.

"Ultimately, just like every other business around town, costs go up, health insurance goes up, salaries go up. The equipment is needed for our public safety and for Parks and Recreation and public works," explained Temple Mayor Tim Davis.

And to folks most concerned about the inexorable march to higher taxes, it seems as if the taxes and fees keep coming and coming and coming.

"Someone purchases the house, and it's okay for, okay, I understand they have taxes. Actually, that's something that's always a be there, just like our cars. We don't ever own our cars, we've always got this registration sticker we got to get we've got to have insurance, ok insurance backs us up if we have an accident, versus, they're still gonna make money. We never own anything in this life," said Ortiz.

It can sure seem that way.

That's the taxing issue in a nutshell and why we often elect leaders who know how to squeeze a penny to forestall a day we'll have to sell the house just to cover a taxing issue.