In a swift proceeding on Thursday, Houston ISD’s trustees voted on a 1-cent tax hike for property owners. This comes on top of a 3-cent increase in 2013. These tax hikes are in response to the $1.89 billion voter-approved bond two years ago.
According to Trustee Harvin Moore, “By approving the bond, taxpayers approved of the taxes, they are not new.”
Yet many in the community were shocked to find out that only 1-cent of the 2013 hike actually went to paying down the bond debt, while 2-cents went to day-to-day operational costs, such as salaries.
With higher property valuations the average homeowner in the Bayou City should expect their tax bill to be roughly $250 higher than what they owed to HISD last year. The median price for homes in Houston is about $171,400 which means a tax bill of $2,050 with the newly approved increase.
Renters, on the other hand, do not have to directly pay property taxes, but they are not sheltered from the pain. Landlords don’t hesitate to pass along the tax burden to tenants in the form of rent increases. Many people choose to rent because of the high costs of owning a home, fears are that continuously raising rents in response to higher property taxes will price many people out of the city.
Another concern of some Houstonians is the impact this will have on low-income residents.
“It’s just madness for people who have a fixed income,” said Sandra Flowers, who advocates for taxpayers as a part of the Greater Fifth Ward Stakeholder Partnership. Houston ISD’s proposed rate of $1.1967 per $100 of taxable value may be the lowest in Harris County, but as Flowers pointed out to the Houston Chronicle, “any increases are tough for low-income residents.”
Though the vote did pass, there was a voice of reason in the form of Trustee Greg Meyers. Meyers has been an advocate for HISD’s taxpayers including when it came to voting against the massive $1.89 billion bond of 2012. Meyers reportedly said to the Chron, “We’re seeing values increase double digits – which is great for the Houston economy – but we need to see what impact that has on our tax rate.” The trustee has a valid point because ballooning property values are bringing more money into HISD, so why are taxes continuing to grow?
According to HISD’s Chief Financial Officer, Ken Huewitt, if property values continue to rise at the rate we have seen in the previous two years, he doesn’t believe the district will need to raise taxes by the full 4.85 cents as defined in the bond. The board and Huewitt refused to speculate on what a full tax increase would look like if not the 4.85 cents, they said that would be an issue to deal with next year.
The vote was pushed through quickly without much contention between the board. In fact, when Trustee Moore asked for a slide to be presented to the room that compared state aid to property tax revenue, President of the Board, Juliet Stipeche commented, “Remember we have that Texan game”, referencing the Texans vs. Colts game with a kickoff set 30 minutes from then. Needless to say, the board rushed through the comment and discussion portion and voted 7 to 1 in favor of the tax hike.