On Tuesday, the Tom Green County Commissioners Court unanimously decided to impose a county property tax increase of 7.99 percent to avoid the threat of public accountability. That’s just below the 8 percent trigger set by state law that would have allowed citizens to petition for a countywide rollback election on the take hike.

The citizens who attended the two mandatory hearings on the proposed tax increase voiced their deep concern at the rate hikes, which will force property owners to pay a much higher tax bill to the county.

The county proposed a property tax rate of 55.117 cents per $100 of property valuation, which is higher than the previous year, and just under the “rollback” rate of 55.182 cents. After adjusting for changes in property values, it amounts to a 7.9 percent tax revenue increase across all properties the county also taxed the previous year. The proposed tax rate of 55.117 is significantly higher than the effective tax rate of 51.037, which is the rate low enough to offset the overall increase in appraised values in 2019.

The county’s proposed tax rate is only one tenth of one percent below the current state limit. It’s also more than double the tax increase that would be allowed by state law in 2020, after Senate Bill 2’s tax reforms take effect.

At both public hearings, individual residents explained the hardship increased taxes impose on people with fixed incomes. Several testified that the rising taxes on their residences would literally “tax” them out of their homes. They also noted the ripple effects that higher property taxes have on increasing rental rates, and ultimately, on retail sales.

Concern and displeasure were also expressed about the pay increases the commissioners were giving themselves. While one commissioner was adamantly opposed to lowering his proposed pay increase below those of county employees, two other commissioners vowed to give up their 3.5 percent increases.

The method the appraisal district uses to assign property values to personal residences is particularly concerning to many of those who spoke against the property tax rate increases. Numerous cases of gross inequality in the appraisal process were presented.

While the county commission has no control over appraisals, it clearly benefits from higher valuations and must take them into consideration and implement an effective tax rate. Rather than county officials lowering its 2019 tax rate to offset rising property values this year, commissioners are increasing the rate, in addition to the higher values, forcing most property owners to pay a much bigger bill to the county.

Ken Casper

Ken Casper was born and raised in New York City. He joined the Air Force and served in Japan, Vietnam, and Germany as well as various stateside assignments before retiring in San Angelo, Texas. An active member and former president of the San Angelo Tea Party, Ken is also the author of more than 25 novels.