Williamson County citizens may be surprised to learn their county government just approved a dramatic change: they’ll now send out huge cash reimbursements to refund over half of property taxes.
There’s just one problem — the new rules only apply to one hand-picked business.
Williamson County inked a special deal with tech giant Apple on Tuesday morning, after the company announced plans last week to invest $1 billion into a new north Austin campus.
The deal includes an exclusive perk: each year for the next 15 years, the county will send Apple a check refunding 65 percent of their property taxes.
Wouldn’t that be nice, county homeowners?
Unfortunately, the rest of the citizens and businesses in the county don’t get to play by those rules. Williamson County officials are charging their average homeowner nearly $500 more annually in taxes than they did just five years ago.
After county commissioners voted unanimously to approve the new rules, Texas Scorecard asked them if this property tax deal was just for Apple or if all of the businesses and citizens in the county should expect to receive it.
“No, don’t expect it,” said Terry Cook, Precinct 1 Commissioner. “If [other businesses] want to bring in a huge investment, we might consider it.”
“They’re all looked at on an individual basis,” said Precinct 4’s Larry Madsen. “Each one is brought to the county to see what they have to offer and how they can benefit the county.”
“We have certain policies they’d have to qualify for in order to receive them,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey. “For example, residential would not. Others would have to meet certain criteria as far as jobs and different things. It’s not just anybody. This one is anticipating 4,000 jobs in 15 years and eventually up to 15,000 jobs in the area with a tax base of $1 billion.”
In other words, if you are a normal homeowner or a small business, don’t expect to play by the same favorable rules as the county’s favorite big corporations.
Imagine a scenario where a Williamson County official approaches a local business — say, the iconic Little Red Wagon Hamburgers — and demands full tax payment, but then walks across the street to McDonald’s and lets them have a massive discount.
Even worse, oftentimes the official will even give the favored business cash bonuses using the cash they just collected from the other business across the street.
Furthermore, aside from the corruption, Williamson County’s deal was completely useless. The special perk will be worth tens of millions over the next 15 years — but this year alone, Apple made $265 billion in total revenue.
That means Williamson County’s total handout will only be worth maybe five one-thousandths (.005) of a percent of what Apple made last year. That’s equivalent to getting a $2 signing bonus on a $50,000 salary. It is insulting to say this perk was necessary or was the deciding factor in bringing Apple to town.
Instead of making special deals with hand-picked people, Williamson County officials could choose justice: lowering taxes for everyone would encourage prosperity across the entire county, not just for their favorite corporation.
“[This deal] is a win for everybody,” said incoming County Judge Bill Gravell. “Williamson County is winning and the people of Williamson County are winning.”