Brace yourselves, folks.  Just yesterday, the Statesman’s Laylin Copelin reported that Travis County property appraisals had fallen 3.5% this year.  Which means every taxing entity in the county that collects property taxes will lose revenue.  Today, Travis County commissioners were presented with the FY 2011 budget – and in said budget, the county property tax rate will go up 4.43%, meaning just from county property taxes, your bill will go up $48.  Inevitable since the budget is more than $32 million more than last year’s budget (due to rising health care costs, says the county).

This really should not surprise anyone, but that’s not all.  The Austin City Council got their proposed budget as well, and while it is “balanced,” it is also going to cause your property taxes to go up.  According to the city’s press release:

 “Under the proposed budget, the property tax rate would increase to 45.71 cents per $100 property evaluation. This is the first time since 2006 the City has not applied the rollback tax rate – which this year would have been 46.93 cents per $100. If approved, the tax bill for the projected median-priced home is estimated to be $843 per year, or $70.27 per month. This is an approximate increase of $4.37 per month for the owner of a median-priced home in Austin.”

So far, if you own a “median-priced” home in Austin, you can expect to pay more than $50 more in your taxes next year. But that assumes your appraisal doesn’t go up – and with appraisals down this year, it is more than likely that appraisals will go up. Under state law, appraisals on homesteads can go up 10% each year.  It also assumes that the school districts around Travis County don’t decide to change their tax rates as well; the majority of the property taxes you pay are school district (ISD) taxes.  And don’t forget the community college district, and the multitudes of other taxing entities that have this power.

Something similar may happen in Williamson County – there, tax rolls were down 6%, and the county commissioners’ court is right now trying to make a decision on the budget and tax rate for next year.  The county has to make a decision on the budget and tax rate by Tuesday, August 31.

AND IT GETS WORSE – also today, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors began crying to the heavens about a projected local government shortfall of $74 billion, and began hinting that federal money would be better to bail them out than local money. Travis County certainly isn’t acting that way – the budget going up speaks to their confidence – but scare tactics about “essential services” could encourage state legislatures to join in the new clamor, and our already obliterated federal pocketbook may be harvested once more. Local governments, ladies and gents, are going a little haywire.

Back here in Texas – taxpayers are still wrapping up summer vacations and are therefore distracted from caring about these things, and if they protested their property taxes this year they only got the decisions in the last few weeks.  It is not a time when most people are looking at what will happen next year.  But taxing entities have to make decisions on budgets and taxing rates very quickly, and it will all be over before the next big distraction comes down the pike.  NOW is the time to pay attention and to weigh in on what your local taxing entities are doing – now is the time to have your say.

If you didn’t protest your appraisal this year, you’re probably in for a shock when you get your appraisal next year, and definitely when you get next year’s tax bill.  Austin and Travis County are all smiles and optimism about the economic forecast – in other words, their revenue forecast, and the hit your pocketbook is more than likely to take as a result.