The local officials elected in May of each year make governing decisions that most directly impact our daily lives. They also determine how much our property tax bills increase.

That’s right: City, county, and school board officials are the politicians responsible for what happens to your property tax bill. Concerned taxpayers need to be engaged at all levels, but especially in local government.

With rare exception, local politicians vote to raise property taxes each fall. They do so when they refuse to lower their tax rates after being told by the appraisal district how much property values increased. This failure to sufficiently lower tax rates has resulted in property owners paying the highest taxes in the areas that have grown the fastest—Fort Bend, Travis, and Collin Counties.

The Texas Association of Realtors labeled this phenomenon the “hidden” property tax. But in reality, it isn’t hidden, just underreported.

According to government data, the City of Frisco raised its tax burden higher than any other city in North Texas over the past five years. Although Frisco slightly lowered their tax rate, their overall effective property tax burden increased 38 percent. Similarly, the Collin County Community College has also lowered their rate, but increased their tax burden by 20 percent over the same period, due to skyrocketing land values.

This same dynamic plays itself out across the state. But not all localities make taxpayers pay more simply because their property increased in value. In 2016, both Denton and Collin County Commissioners Courts held the line, by lowering their tax rates down to the “effective” rate.

The effective rate is the rate low enough to offset appraisal increases overall. A government that adopts it will collect the same revenue from the same properties they also taxed the previous year, while funding expanded services from new properties added to the tax rolls. This rate reduction is not a “tax cut,” but simply a rate low enough to offset aggregate appraisal increases across the district.

Perhaps the most underreported fact is that Texans remain saddled with the second-highest local debt, per person, in the nation. Not only is this debt often approved by single-digit voter turnout in May, it’s a burden repaid with higher property taxes.

Local debt is partly to blame for Texas homeowners paying the fourth highest property taxes nationwide. But don’t be fooled by the misguided belief that our high taxes are because we don’t pay a personal income tax. Texas homeowners pay the second-highest property taxes among the nine states without a personal income tax.

Early voting for local elections began April 24, with Election Day on Saturday, May 6. Texans for Fiscal Responsibility has issued endorsements for local candidates running in the DFW Metroplex and San Antonio. Make your voice heard.

Ross Kecseg

Ross Kecseg was the president of Texas Scorecard. He passed away in 2020. A native North Texan, he was raised in Denton County. Ross studied Economics at Arizona State University with an emphasis on Public Policy and U.S. Constitutional history. Ross was an avid golfer, automotive enthusiast, and movie/music junkie. He was a loving husband and father.