County Judge Proposes Property Tax Cut

With property appraisals up about 12 percent this year, Harris County judge Ed Emmett says it's time to give some of what he calls a "windfall" back to taxpayers. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, Emmett has proposed a one cent property tax rollback that Harris County commisioners could vote on later this month.

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With that 12 percentξappraisal increase, the county can expect to rake in about $180 million dollars in extra property tax revenue this year alone, a bonus Emmett says should go back to taxpayers who have seen their property taxes skyrocket over the past decade. The one centξtax cut wouldn't really mean a whole lot for the average taxpayer, about $12 in annual savings, but Emmett says that's not the point.

"You can always say, well, to any individual it's not much. But it's the aggregate that adds up and it is the principal of should government grow any faster than the economy or than the population and the answer is I think no, unless there's a really good reason to do it."

The county says around 700,000 homes went up in value this year. Only 60,000 dropped in value, a trend familiar to Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, Paul Bettencourt, who has been a proponent of some sort of property tax relief. He says Emmett's proposal makes sense.ξξξξ

"This is the perfect year because you have such a strong roll-growth right now and with the roll growth being 12.5 percent at the county, it's important to recognize the obvious that if you don't roll back your tax rates, tax bills will go up by 12.5 percent and that's not a good long-term public policy in my mind for either businesses or homeowners."

Both commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia have concerns about Emmett's idea. Lee wants to be sure county services won't be interrupted as a result of the proposed tax rollback. Garcia says it might be wiser to use the extra tax revenue as a guard against leaner economic times.ξ

"I quite frankly would want to look at putting some of that money aside. If anyone thinks we have a windfall, put it away for a rainy day. We've been lucky in our region to not have any sort of catastrophic event or some economic downturn, but if that happens we need some ability to respond. I'm open to a tax cut. I don't know that it's a penny. I don't know that it's a half a penny. I don't know that it's a quarter of a penny. I would like to look at the numbers, look at our costs that have increased and make sure that it's something that we can live with."

Commissioners will vote on the property tax rate on October 23rd and taxpayers will have a chance to comment before that vote.

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