Last Thursday, New Braunfels resident Bob Wolf urged Comal County commissioners to consider asking for a freeze on property values — and increased taxes.
“We’re asking for a resolution asking the governor to freeze property values at the 2019 levels to combat COVID-19 economic woes,” he said, indicating that one-sixth to one-third of all Americans right now are either unemployed, underemployed or retired. “Every business in this county — with the exception of grocery stores, liquor stores and gun shops — has seen a dramatic drop in revenues.
“There’s no telling how fast we’re going to come out of this,” he added. “This is no time to raise our property taxes just because our property values have gone up.”
The Comal Appraisal District, which assesses and certifies values of residential and commercial properties for 27 taxing jurisdictions, released 2020 preliminary values, which compared to 2019’s certified values will increase between 16% and 20% after protests filed by June 8.
Rufino Lozano, CAD chief appraiser, said the coronavirus panic delayed mailings of notices, which were finally completed May 5. He said most questions are from taxpayers who received notice of a “canceled or modified exemption” of values modified since the previous year.
“Everyone in the county whose values dropped by even a dollar received a notice,” he said. “Several local taxing jurisdictions grant local option exemptions based on a percentage of value, so if their valuations fluctuate or go down, so will the local option exemption amount.”
Alonzo said property owners under a tax ceiling freeze because of an over-65 or disability exemption will not change those amounts if they became eligible in 2018 or earlier.
Area values up
Comal County values rose by 16.25% — from $19.362 billion in 2019 to $22.508 billion projected this year by the CAD. Properties in the city of New Braunfels and both area public school districts are assessed by multiple appraisal boards.
City CAD values went up 20.97%, from $7.077 billion to $8.562 billion in 2020. Guadalupe County assessments increased from $8.477 billion to $10.087 billion — a $1.6 billion increase, or 18.9%, compared to 2019.
New Braunfels ISD’s net taxable values for 2019 as certified by the Comal and Guadalupe Appraisal Districts in July 2019 totaled $6,124,259,585. Preliminary 2020 net taxable values projected in April totaled $7,022,555,349. The $898,295,764 growth is an increase of 14.67%, said Steve Brown, the district’s executive director of business and operations.
Comal ISD’s 2019 net taxable values, certified by the Comal, Hays, Kendall, Guadalupe and Bexar appraisal districts, totaled $18,367,654,216 after protests, said David Andersen, the district’s chief financial officer. CISD’s 2020 preliminary net taxable values projected in May totaled $20,192,769,517, prior to protests, with the $1,825,115,301 projected growth an increase of 9.94%.
Abbott digs in
Both districts, and the city and county — stung by lost revenue from sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes and more due statewide stay home measures and layoffs — are in the midst of budget planning. Senate Bill 2 mandates caps on the maintenance and operation portion of property taxes reduced from 8% to no more than 3.5% beginning in fiscal 2020-21.
“In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed new school finance legislation that caps the amount of revenue that we as a school district can collect, even as property appraisals go up,” Andersen said. “So even though we are seeing a 16% increase in property appraisal values, we are projecting another tax rate reduction this coming budget year, on top of the 7-cent tax rate reduction taxpayers realized last year.”
New Braunfels City Manager Robert Camareno said most of the city’s growth comes from existing values, which will also be reduced from 8% to 3.5% under SB 2.
“We’ll have to set our tax rate based on that reduction in existing value,” he said. “We’ll have to do a lot of calculating. . . We’ll have to run (scenarios) based on the new requirements, see what the results are and then present them to council. We’ll then develop the budget based on what they approve.”
Mayor Barron Casteel said public schools comprise about 60% of local property taxes, which are set by the state. Abbott said Tuesday that he’s not ready to suspend the law to freeze property values or alter taxes under his disaster powers, which many have asked him to do.
“The appraisal doesn’t set how much you have to pay in taxes but the sets the value of a person’s property, and the owner should be able to benefit from the rise or decline in the value of the property. What determines how much you pay in taxes is the tax rate set by the local taxing entity,” he told a San Antonio news outlet on Tuesday.
“As a result, we’re not going to make any type of state law modifying what a person’s home value is worth. Instead, what is required is that the local taxing entities will be required to (use) best practices to reduce the property tax rate so that it will not be (as) punishing to these property owners.”
Lozano said a month ago that he’s already received dozens of emails from property owners — most of them elderly — stating they’re unable to make tax payments based on the last year’s values, let alone higher 2020 values. Wolf referred to a May 5 letter from District 73 State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, which in part stated:
“I have already seen finger pointing among elected officials, saying they need permission from someone else in order to give their constituents relief, trying to pass the blame. This is not the time for that. We must work together to make it happen. We owe it to our constituents.”
“Property taxes cannot go up one penny. I call on all local taxing entities to keep or even decrease their rates to alleviate the burden on the taxpayers. The people literally cannot afford it. I also call on our local appraisal districts to freeze appraisals at last year’s rate.
“I strongly believe that if local officials join in that call we will see an immediate freeze of current appraisals in our community.”
County Judge Sherman Krause and other commissioners couldn’t answer Wolf’s request, which came during public input that prohibits response by state law. But Krause said the county has heard from constituents with similar concerns.
“It’s too soon to equate the preliminary values and what they mean to the individual taxpayer but it’s a pretty significant increase,” he said. “We haven’t talked about them in relation to the budget, but I’m sure we will after the certified rolls come out in July.”
Lozano said 84,000 notices were sent out, and he expects about 16% to file protests before the new deadline. He said 15,000 protests were filed last year, with relief granted to only 1,800, and expects close to 18,000 this year. Due to social distancing measures, the CAD has added a teleconferencing video system for appeals, and final CAD numbers will become official by the time its Appraisal Review Board (ARB) reviews appeals by the Sept. 30 deadline.