I’ve always loved that line from the movie “The Princess Bride.” Any time I’m off to a political meeting or event, or a hearing, my husband shouts, “Have fun storming the castle!” as I go out the door. So, I think it’s time to metaphorically “storm the castle” of our local governments.

It’s tax rate setting time in Texas! And once again, Fort Worth city officials are patting themselves on the back for lowering property tax rates. And yes—it’s true! They have lowered the tax rate by 3.75 cents compared to last year, per a post to the city’s website on Tuesday, August 13, 2019.

What they don’t mention (and you have to dig into the budget to find) is the fact that this budget, if adopted, “will raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by $46,738,049 (or 8.8 percent); and of that amount, $16,224,902 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.”

The City has chosen NOT to adopt the effective rate of $0.7275 per $100 of value (now known as the “no-new-taxes rate”), which would have meant that tax revenues would remain the same as the previous year, and your tax bill for the City would stay the same. The proposed 2020 rate is still 2 cents above that no-new-taxes rate. And that means that when you get that notice from the tax assessor in October, your property tax bill for this year will definitely be higher than last year. So, don’t believe the lie!

In my budget, if I write a bigger check for property taxes this year than I did last year, then my taxes have gone up! But still, the City tells us that they are helping us out by lowering the rate. From the executive summary of the budget, page 26 reads:

“Property Tax Rate Reduction: In an effort to encourage commercial development and lower the tax burden to residents and businesses, the City of Fort Worth property tax rate is being reduced nearly four cents ($0.0375) to $0.7475 per $100 of assessed value from $0.785 per $100 of assessed value.”

And then there is this quote from the webpage post on August 13:

“Cooke recommended reducing Fort Worth’s property tax rate by 3.75 cents, from 78.5 cents per $100 valuation to 74.75 cents. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 with a homestead exemption would pay $1,196 in city property taxes. If the City Council approves the new rate, the property tax rate will have declined by 10.75 cents over the last four years. Total appraised property value for 2020 has increased by 13.1% over last year, reaching more than $103 billion.”

So, did you catch that? The tax rates have declined by 10.75 cents over the last 4 years. That’s 2.6875 cents per year. But the appraised property value has increased 13.1 percent in just ONE YEAR! See how this works? They want to tell us that they are easing our property tax burden by lowering the rates, all the while their revenue increases, and your tax bills go higher and higher.

Keep in mind that the new legislation, SB 2, that passed the recent legislature does not take effect until 2020. So, municipalities can increase their revenue (and your taxes) with no limits this year. Starting in 2020, they cannot increase property tax revenues more than 3.5 percent year-to-year without voter approval.

Does your municipal government lie to you about the property taxes? Governments all over Texas are currently setting budgets and tax rates for FY2020.  We all need to be sure we understand exactly what they are doing, and let them know what we think about it.  All of this information on any municipality is available on the web pages.  Sometimes they like to bury it in the weeds, but it’s there, you just have to look.  And they are required to hold public hearings on the budget and the tax rate.  So go to the hearings – tell them what you think. If you can’t go, tell them via phone or email.

And don’t buy the story that it can’t be done. So far, the cities of Colleyville, Southlake, and Plano have adopted the effective rate or a rate lower than the effective rate. It can be done!

Fort Worth’s hearings will be in August 27 and September 10 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the regular council meeting at City Hall, 200 Texas Street, Fort Worth. You can also give feedback at FWConnection@fortworthtexas.gov

We have to start paying more attention to municipal government spending. That’s what drives our property taxes, and the only thing that will lower our taxes is decreased municipal budgets. But that is not going to happen until very large numbers of people show up at meetings and hearings and protest. We keep letting them get away with it. It’s time to storm the castle! Show up in great numbers and at least make them tell the truth about property taxes.

This is a commentary submitted and published with the authors’ permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to submission@texasscorecard.com.

Fran Rhodes

Fran Rhodes is a resident of Fort Worth and Keller ISD and has been actively involved in local community affairs since 2010. Fran is president of True Texas Project.