Texas Lawmakers Mull Tax Breaks for Disaster-Struck Property

Lawmakers are considering a bill that could grant Texas homeowners a tax break when their property has been damaged by disasters such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Bill sponsor Sen. Paul Bettencourt said it would allow homeowners to challenge unjust property tax bills after a natural disaster, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"Nothing makes home and business owners madder than paying full property taxes on a damaged or destroyed property," Bettencourt said.

The bill would basically remove cities, counties and other governmental agencies from the disaster reappraisal process. It also includes guidelines on how appraisers must complete the work.

Hurricane Harvey caused widespread damage and flooding along the Texas Gulf Coast, with winds speeds topping 130 mph (210 kph). A handful of the more than 200,000 damaged structures were reappraised.

In Harris County, which has over 500 taxing districts, just 10 residents agreed to reappraise properties to reflect their post-storm worth, which assisted the owners of 14,000 properties mostly in the Katy and Humble school districts.

"Unconscionable," said Bettencourt.

In 2017, many of those government agencies said they were concerned about losing tax revenue while facing an epic disaster. Some county officials cautioned that the price of doing reappraisals could cost millions, leading to lost revenue needed to fund police and fire protection.

Others said the lack of appraisals wasn't about losing revenue.

"All it was, was greed," Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl E. Johnson told Senators in a hearing on the issue in April.

Local governments were more worried about the revenues than the owners of 20,000 properties in Galveston County that were severely damaged, Johnson added. While governments can find other income sources, she noted residents have significantly more restrictive options, particularly after losing their homes.

The proposal has passed the Senate and the House could vote on it next week.

If the bill passes, an alteration in the state constitution would be needed to guarantee the change can be made. The Legislature would then be required to put a ballot item to the public in November.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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