Cities impacted by homestead exemption for disabled veterans are asking state for additional funding

Posted at 1:02 PM, Sep 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-12 21:23:00-04

Some cities impacted by the homestead exemption for 100 percent disabled veterans plan to ask legislators for additional funding to offset the loss of revenue.

Killeen, Nolanville and Harker Heights plan to ask for the change during the next legislative session in 2019.

The law granting veterans that exemption went into effect in 2009. In 2011, the exemption expanded to include the surviving spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans. 

Guadalupe Lopez who is a U.S. Army Veteran does not have to pay $800 per year in property taxes anymore. He received the 100 percent disability rating in 2016 following a heart attack. 

"We have been able to go visit our family. It gives us something to help us buy the things that we need and of course put it into our retirement," Lopez said.

Since 2015, Killeen and Copperas Cove have received state aid to help offset the loss. Legislators passed a law back then to help communities next to military installations, such as Ft. Hood.

However, both cities indicate the reimbursement is only a fraction of the loss of revenue.  

Copperas Cove, for example, lost $740,233 during the current fiscal year and it received about 41 percent or $307,519 in aid from the state.

According to Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra, the city will lose $5.3 million from the exemptions. However, the state will only reimburse the city $1.2 million.

"It's not a dollar for dollar aid that we are getting and the challenge with that, the way the legislation was written you get the same every year but what's happening is that the growth of our exemptions is bigger," Segarra said. 

Segarra said the number of people with exemptions has increased 10 percent every year. The City of Harker Heights estimates a 31 percent increase in exemptions for the next fiscal year.

Even though Harker Heights and Nolanville are near Fort Hood, they do not receive reimbursement from the state because the cities are not adjacent to the military installation.

However, both cities are asking legislators to introduce a bill that would allow them to receive reimbursement because they are located only 1.5 miles away from the edge of Ft. Hood.

According to the Legislative Advocate for the City of Harker Heights Jerry Bark, due to the exemption, the city will not receive $1.6 million in property tax revenue for the next fiscal year, which makes up eight percent of the city's total general fund revenue.

"We believe the state of Texas needs to share the burden of honoring these veterans for the communities they reside in. We would like to be fully funded. Is that possible? I'm not quite sure but we need some type of relief," Bark said.

Nolanville, which has a population of 5,000 people expects to lose $162,788 due to the exemption. 

City manager Kara Escajeda said the city was able to buffer the impact with some additional revenue with the annexation of commercial properties in 2016. 

"This is still not enough to expand staffing levels desired in the police department in response to our growth.  Exemptions at the current rate, without assistance, will stunt the expansion of essential services and infrastructure improvements," Escajeda said.

Lopez hopes legislators will provide support to the cities affected.

"My feeling is they need to support the communities give them what they've lost through taxes," Lopez said.

If Harker Heights does not receive additional funding, Bark said the last resort would be to increase taxes or cut programs.

"If we continue losing that percentage every year, it becomes a situation, we are going to have to look at some other type of services and programs that we can't sustain," Bark said.

Killeen officials are asking the state to increase the amount it gives the city in reimbursement. If that doesn't happen, Segarra said this could mean having to make tough choices.

"When it comes down to it, it's all put back on our taxpayers. It will be either figure out another revenue source or raise taxes," Segarra said.

The City of Copperas Cove does not intend to ask legislators to make any changes to the reimbursement it currently receives.

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