In-Depth

Galveston County Judge Seeks To Freeze Property Tax Appraisals

Judge Mark Henry has asked Governor Abbott to freeze 2020 appraisals at 2019 levels, as a measure to help residents cope with the economic effects of COVID-19

The 1913 Mrs. George Smith Boarding House, at 1103 Tremont in Galveston. County Judge Mark Henry wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott requesting the governor freeze 2020 property tax appraisals.

If you own a home, the economic slowdown may have reduced its value, but not your property taxes.

But in Galveston, the county judge is trying to hold the line on taxes.

Houston Public Media reporter Andrew Schneider spoke with County Judge Mark Henry about his letter to Governor Greg Abbott, requesting the governor freeze 2020 property tax appraisals at their 2019 levels. The below interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.

Why did you send this letter to the governor?

Henry: As people are generally aware, assessments are effective the first day of January...Well, the first day of January, nobody, at least in Galveston County, was really talking about a pandemic. So, since that time, a lot of people have been shut down, businesses closed. Our oil industry looks like it's in for some really tough times. And concurrent with that, people start getting their tax bills. And by the way, I'm one of them. One of my properties went up 264%. So, these dramatic increases in the middle of somewhat of an economic disaster got my phone and e-mail just going crazy, understandably, because people are unaware generally that the county doesn't have a role in setting the assessment. So, I thought the one thing I can do is ask the governor to revert back to 2019 values. People would have had their opportunity to protest and I guess get comfortable with a ’19 assessment. We would find it unlikely that there'd be a lot of people unhappy [with] the 2019 assessed values.

Have you gotten a response yet?

Henry: None yet. But you know, we just sent the letter last week, so we don't expect a quick response. I'm sure he has got a lot of things to consider, this just being one of them. You know, the state not only is looking at a significant loss in sales tax revenue but also in oil and gas. So, they've got a lot bigger issues to consider than just my request, I guess.

What does it mean for Galveston if the governor says no?

Henry: The consequences for the county...I guess would have to be determined. One of the issues that [State] Representative [Mayes] Middleton brought up [in a separate letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton], which is a very fair point, is that how are people going to protest this, their assessed value? The Central Appraisal District is currently not able to have in-person protests. They're relying on audio-visual. Well, what if you don't have the audio-visual equipment, or can't get access to it? And it's a due process issue. You're entitled to this appeal, or this protest and appeal, and now you may not be able to use it. So, the consequences are kind of far reaching, and it's also going to be difficult for some of these people to pay these increased tax bills, or impossible.

Read the letter to Gov. Greg Abbott below.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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