BELTON — The first property tax hearing held by the Bell County Commissioners Court on Wednesday prompted a discussion about tax exemptions and drew calls for reforms to the appraisal process.
County Judge Jon Burrows recognized the difficulty that some homeowners face when it comes to paying their tax bills. “We understand that every dollar is a difficult dollar. ... We try to be good stewards of your money.”
He then highlighted how much revenue is removed from the tax rolls because of exemptions. When Bell County initially implemented a property tax cap in the 2006 fiscal year, about 12,500 homeowners qualified, Burrows said. Those homeowners removed about $308,000 in funds.
This year the population of homeowners who are 65 and older and had their taxes frozen increased to about 16,700 or $1.3 million in funds.
Temple resident Bill Rowton asked if the county could raise taxes on homeowners with exemptions for being older than 65 years old, “a little bit.”
“If we raise theirs a little and lower ours a little, it’ll even out,” Rowton said at the morning hearing.
When a property tax exemption for veterans who are considered 100 percent disabled was implemented in the 2010 fiscal year, it applied to 701 homeowners and exempted about $354,000 in funds.
This year, 100 percent disabled veteran exemptions, which now extend to surviving spouses, will be applied to about 3,300 homeowners and exempt about $2 million in funds, Burrows said.
“The tax code as it is applied is not uniform and equal,” said Bill Schumann, Precinct 3 commissioner.
Property owners also took issue with the regular increases in the taxable value of their homes.
“The important thing that people forget is that the tax rate is meaningless until it’s multiplied by the appraised value,” Lew Akins said. “I’d love to see a system where I could bring my deed in and the appraisal district would immediately buy it for that value.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Tim Brown said commissioners’ hands are tied by the Legislature.
“We have the tax mechanism that the Legislature gives us,” Brown said. “The biggest complaint we hear is about appraisals.”
Unlike other states, Texas does not have a disclosure law when it comes to real estate sales, which prevents appraisal districts from knowing the actual purchase price of a home, he said.
“Since they don’t know what you paid for your house, they have nothing to go on when they appraise the value,” Brown said. “We’ve told our legislators for years that we need a disclosure law but no one wants to pass it.”
Only one homeowner spoke in favor property tax exemptions. Claudia Brown, a homeowner in Killeen, told commissioners she will be presenting them, and other taxing entities, with a 50-page petition containing 2,200 signatures. The petition asks that homeowners age 70 and older be permanently exempted from paying taxes to support area school districts and colleges.