(The Center Square) – With the COVID-19 pandemic putting unforeseen pressure on homeowners, it’s not the time to raise property taxes to make up for lost sales tax and other revenues, an Austin economic policy group says.
In states of emergency caused by flooding or other natural disasters, local taxing bodies are given latitude to raise property taxes to help cover costs, but the coronavirus presents a different kind of emergency, Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA), told The Center Square.
“Our concern is local jurisdictions may raise taxes higher than they should,” Craymer said. “We hope that local jurisdictions will be judicious this year in only adopting the minimum amount they need to function during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.”
With cities and counties, cities’ rates might rise the most, due to lost revenue from shuttered businesses and canceled events like the South by Southwest music festival, Craymer said.
When SB2 passed last year, it was designed to limit how much local governments could raise property taxes, essentially reducing the cap from 8 percent to 3.5 percent, except in cases of disasters, Craymer said.
While many residents are concerned about home values getting assessed as of Jan. 1 – before the virus-induced economic decline – the greater concern is how much money local governments may decide they need to recover, he added.
“People need to be vigilant and pay attention to tax rates that jurisdictions adopt come summer,” Craymer said, adding that because of SB2, for the first time property owners will have access to a website with direct data that shows who is doing what to their property tax bill.
“My counsel, don’t go to sleep once you have your value settled,” Craymer said. “You have to be vigilant and reach out about rates local communities set because that’s what drives up your tax bill, not your value.”
Craymer said he is hopeful the budgeting process will take into account that COVID-19 differs from other natural disasters in its across-the-board effects on people’s income.
“We are hoping local jurisdictions will scrutinize the dollars they spend so folks aren’t hit with spiraling property tax bills this year,” Craymer added.