Taxpayers pleaded with the Tarrant County commissioners on Tuesday to eschew large spending increases and instead provide for property tax relief, but instead got excuses and complaints from Judge Glen Whitley and Commissioner Gary Fickes.

Tarrant County has proposed a property tax rate that their own data, and data from the Tarrant Appraisal District, states would increase the county’s average property tax bill for homeowners 42.5 percent from just six years ago, from $359 to $469.

“I’m sure you’re very serious in making these plans, but you know some people will have to move, and they will have to leave Tarrant County, and that also will cost more money,” said a crying Vera Sweet, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Keller.

“I designed and built my house in 2010, and it was to be my retirement home,” added Brian Campbell, also of Keller. “I have my house up for sale, to move […] looking at another county, because it is just getting difficult for people who are looking at retiring, being on a fixed income, and having homes that keep getting taxed higher and higher and higher.”

Property tax hikes are also hurting renters in low-income areas as well, said property owner Crystal Main of North Richland Hills. “[My] properties … are in very low-income areas, and the people I rent to can barely afford the rent as it is for me to be able to keep the property up, and now you’re raising the taxes on them.”

“How are my tenants supposed to afford this tax increase? Or, do I sell the property and then they’re out on the street?” she asked.

“Tarrant County taxpayers are already at the limit of what they can afford, and some are choosing or being forced to sell their homes and relocate or rent because of the continuously rising property taxes,” agreed Fran Rhodes of Fort Worth. “We’re just being hit everywhere we turn with property taxes.”

But despite the heartfelt speeches and pleas from citizens, Whitley told taxpayers he wouldn’t pare back the tax increase.

“I hope that all of y’all who spoke go back and watch the budget hearings from August the fifth, August the twentieth, and August the twenty-seventh, to hear as we listen to the requests from the various elected officials,” he said, arguing as to why Tarrant County must continue increasing taxes.

While saying he is “sympathetic” to the hurting taxpayer, Whitley joined Fickes in blaming tax increases on the State of Texas not reimbursing the county for housing state prisoners in the Tarrant County jail, which he claims costs $30 million. However, the proposed budget for 2020 for the county shows over $625 million of taxpayer money allocated for the general fund alone. $30 million is almost 5 percent of $625 million.

Whitley also pointed the finger at school districts being the larger part of homeowners’ property tax bills and went on to suggest that the solution to lowering property taxes is to tax even more. “Right now, we collect about $100 billion in taxes, state and local, but we exclude about $60 billion.”

Whitley ended by telling taxpayers present to talk to their state legislators. “Tell them to quit mandating to us things that we have to do and then not paying for it.”

He completely avoided taking responsibility for Tarrant County’s taxes and the fact that they can adopt the “effective” tax rate, also called the “no-new-revenue” rate, which adjusts as property values change to keep taxpayers’ bills more or less the same from one year to the next, in the aggregate, though individual results vary based on valuations and exemptions.

Tarrant County commissioners plan to vote on the tax rate Tuesday morning at 10 a.m.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.