Bigger Tax Exemptions for Seniors

Harris County Commissioners Court has voted to increase the property tax exemption for senior homeowners. This will reduce county taxes for many homeowners, and eliminate them completely for others. Houston Public Radio’s Jim Bell explains.

People over 65 and the disabled already pay very low county taxes, but County Commissioners have now increased the dollar value of the seniors tax exemption to $160,000, so their taxes will go down even more. This larger exemption, combined with the standard 20 percent homestead exemption everybody gets, means seniors whose homes appraise at or below $200,000 will pay no county property taxes. None. Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt it’s automatic.

“If your home is worth $200,000 or less, you will not pay the county any taxes. It means that you’ll have a zero tax bill and that’s a good thing for taxpayers.”

The bigger exemption applies only to taxes the county collects for itself, and taxes for the Harris County Flood Control District, the County Hospital District and the Port of Houston Authority. It won’t affect city taxes or school district taxes because they’re levied by different taxing entities. Bettencourt says it would be nice if those other entities followed the county’s lead, but he doesn’t think they will.

“Each taxing jurisdiction sets their own Over 65 Exemption, except for school taxes which are frozen when you become 65. So this is an individual decision.”

Bettencourt says tens of thousands of county taxpayers will be affected by this larger exemption, and the county will lose some money, but not enough to be concerned about because revenues have gone up so much in recent years.

“This is really a way to slow the growth of revenues from Over 65 homeowners. It’s the type of good public policy that in my opinion that keeps people in their homes after they’ve paid a lifetime of taxes.” 

Bettencourt says County Commissioners are doing this to reverse some of the financial pain caused by what’s called “appraisal creep.” That’s what happens when rising property appraisals allow the county and other taxing entities to collect more revenue without raising the tax rate.  Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.