Last year the Houston Metro Area's "Boom" economy created nearly an incredible 119,000 jobs, and the resulting "up" commercial and residential real estate market is the hottest one in the country. Property tax rolls exploded based upon their January 1st, 2013, property valuations by the Harris County Appraisal District to new heights even after receiving nearly 200,000 protests; however, this summer the appraisal review boards only made small reductions in hearings. Importantly, your property tax bill is the sum of all tax rates TIMES the new higher taxable values!
For example, all class "A+" office buildings downtown where a lot of these new employees work in Houston saw their average values go UP by 53% in one year by HCAD! The appraisal review boards reduced their value in hearings by 5% only, leaving values up an astonishing 48% net or nearly half in just one year! That's billions of dollars to the tax rolls of both HISD and the City of Houston, and along with all the other residential and commercial value increases pushed their entire property tax rolls up 11.1% and 10.6% higher respectively in just this year.
That is an astounding $138 million more for the Houston Independent School District and $102 million more into the City of Houston coffers when taxpayers pay the bills by the January 31st, 2014, tax bill due date. Because of left over tax rate capacity from the Texas legislature, HISD proposed another 4 pennies of tax rate increase that would drive the total tax revenue increase to nearly 180 million dollars more, less allowances for refunds, nearly a 15% INCREASE!!
That's where your "Taxman" stepped in to ask for tax relief for all taxpayers because adding that much rate increase on top of a huge appraised valuation hike is like throwing gasoline on taxpayer's checkbooks! I presented the evidence of these increases using the Harris County Tax Office's last estimates already provided to the financial departments of HISD, the City of Houston, and every other major taxing jurisdiction in Harris County.
I could tell at the meeting that the seven attending HISD Trustees had not seen the revised figures, as a lively debate took hold of the meeting for nearly an hour. It would have helped the taxpayers' cause for Trustee Greg Meyers to have shown up as he is a known budget "hawk" at the district, but that role fell to Trustee Harvin Moore who spoke up clearly and established in questions to the district's CFO that revenue estimates had gone up from 6%, to 8%, to finally that night 10% up over last year's property tax collections!
Based upon that answer, Trustee Moore offered an amendment to reduce the increase by a penny saving district taxpayers 12 million dollars in their pockets. The astounding thing or two about all this for the reader to consider is:
1) Nowhere in established print media, or on the Internet has anyone published the overwhelming facts that HISD is getting 168 million more dollars more in property tax revenues much less the City getting 102 million more dollars!
2) It took two folks, myself and Tammy Bettencourt from the BOMA trade organization (no relation to the Taxman), coming to the HISD tax rate vote to bring this to light. A couple of good local TV news organizations carried these record property tax bill increases, with one anchor women remarking, "Why not? Everyone is interested in taxes!"
What happened at the City of Houston Council Chamber is even more perplexing! Only one city council member, Helena Brown in District A, had the courage to stand up against Mayor Parker, to vote NO a record $102 million, 10.6% property tax increase in just one year. Unlike HISD, the City of Houston administration wouldn't even recognize the obvious fact that their numbers were 34 million dollars too low, and they were clearly over collecting on the budget.
Immediately, Houston Mayoral candidate Ben Hall and At-large City Council candidate Michael Kubosh called for a two penny tax rate cut to keep that 34 million dollars in taxpayers pocketbooks not the city coffers! Hopefully, next year's council will understand that truth-in-taxation starts with telling all the folks how much more they are really going to pay on their property tax bills. Oh, and if 10% more revenue is not enough for a rate cut, maybe it will take the mayor and city council taking 15% or 20% more monies a year before they finally agree to lower the rate. When will it end?
The public needs to be told in advance in plain English by effective, truthful public notices and unbiased, serious media coverage how much more of their money is really flowing into governmental coffers. Houston City Controller candidate Bill Frazer, a current CPA and past president of the Houston CPA Society has said he believes the City of Houston has understated their property tax revenue SINCE 2006 in his opinion, to avoid having propositions passed by the public in 2004 from automatically cutting the proposed tax rate down as the appraised values go up rapidly in the city.
Next year, due to a record 28 months of market sales activity, Houston home values will explode 10% or more almost wherever you own a home in the Greater Houston Area. At that point, I expect the public to take this issue seriously, and a lot more members of Houston City Council should be willing to listen to the message to cut property tax rates!
It means that government is going to get use to taking 10% more in property tax two years in a row, and that is the beings of bad public policy decisions all around. To be sure, HISD like many Texas school districts, doesn't keep all the local property tax revenues they collect, due to so called "Robin-Hood" school financing formulas. However, what does happen is that local property taxpayers pay more each year, and the state of Texas lowers what state aid it sends HISD backing up billions of dollars yearly in the state treasury if you include all school districts in the state over a two year biennium budget. There is a lot to do both locally and in Austin trying to get these property tax bill increases under control, and you'll find your "Taxman" doing his best on both ends for our hard-pressed taxpayers!
Until then, the bottom line is we can't let even local government grow at 10% a year, otherwise the cost to the taxpayers doubles in just seven years. That's at least twice as fast as population and inflation rates combined, and what will happen is that you can pay off your banker's 30 year mortgage on your home, but you will never pay off the government taxman. Sign-up on paulbettencourt.com or my Facebook page, and look for more updates from the Texas Conservative Review on this important truly pocketbook issue for all Texans!
Paul Bettencourt is a former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and current Republican Candidate for Texas Senate District 7.
TCR City of Houston Voter's Guide And
Pre-Primary Preview Coming Next Week
Coming soon online at this website and in your mailbox in Harris County is the TCR City of Houston Voter's Guide and Pre-Primary preview.
Contained in this indispensable guide is a scorecard of city candidates on the TCR City of Houston questionnaire with grades, recommendations in key Harris County and State of Texas propositions and endorsements in city and local nonpartisan races with our reasons why, as usual.
One sneak preview item: Annise Parker's grade on the common-sense questionnaire is an "F," down from a "B" two years ago, a stunning decline that indicates she plans to abandon any semblance of conservatism if elected for her last term. Some observers have suggested she is positioning to run in the future as a partisan liberal Democrat, so her actions are consistent with that purpose.
Al Qaeda Is Alive, And We'd Better Wake Up Before The Next Disaster
Buried in the media over the last couple of months are disturbing stories about our homeland security being tested in preparation for the next terrorist strike.
Let's review some of the recent incidents with thanks to Michelle Malkin.
1) On September 2, 2013, according to the U.S. Airline Pilots' Association, "a group of Middle-Eastern males on a D.C. bound flight made a scene by running toward the flight deck door, loudly opening and shutting overhead bins and making what appeared to be a coordinated attempt to distract flight attendants."
2) At LAX (Los Angeles) in October 2013, two dry ice bombs exploded. The devices were, per the LA TIMES, "outside the terminal near planes," near where baggage handlers and cargo personnel work. This is an area of vulnerability identified by security observers as the back door for terrorists.
3) In Atlanta in June 2013, a baggage handler was arrested after using his credentials to skip airport security and carry on backpacks with what "he believed" were drugs and guns onto a commercial flight!
4) Many workers are still working in our airport restricted areas as they were grandfathered in without adequate security checks.
Makes you feel real confident in our airport security program, doesn't it?
TCR on the Air
Red, White & Blue featuring TCR Editor Gary Polland, liberal commentator David Jones and moderator Linda Lorelle on Fridays at 7:30 pm on PBS Houston Channel 8.1, replaying Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 8.1, Mondays at 11:30 pm on Channel 8.2 and on the web at www.houstonpbs.org.
KUHF/KHOU Election Polling Results with guests: Robert Stein, Ph.D Rice University and Doug Miller, KHOU.
The State & County Propositions with State Rep Jim Murphy & Harold Dutton, George P. Bush, New Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson. Election Recap with Richard Murray and Paul Bettencourt.
The current show as well as past shows are available on YouTube.
About Your Editor
Gary Polland is a long-time conservative and Republican spokesman, fund-raiser, and leader who completed three terms as the Harris County Republican Chairman. During his three terms, Gary was described as the most successful county Chairman in America by Human Events - The National Conservative Weekly. He is in his fifteenth year of editing a newsletter dealing with key conservative and Republican issues. The last twelve years he has edited Texas Conservative Review. As a public service for the last 10 years, Gary has published election guides for the GOP primary, general elections and city elections, all with the purpose of assisting conservative candidates. Gary is also in his twelfth year of co-hosting Red, White and Blue on PBS Houston. Gary is a practicing attorney and strategic consultant. He can be reached at (713) 621-6335.