Tag Archives: Austin Property Taxes

Affordability Petition To The City Council – Let’s All Join In!

By Bill Oakey – August 11, 2016

Unless Austinites come together quickly and petition the City Council, the new budget will hit us with the biggest round of property tax, utility and monthly fee increases in several years. The entire concept of affordability has been tossed to the wind by a City Manager and staff that appear to be isolated from the realities facing us. The lofty language in the budget crows about a booming local economy. But it doesn’t mention what’s happening to you and your neighbors – being taxed out of your homes, runaway rent increases, and stagnant wages.

This Petition Needs To Move Quickly. You Can Print It and Distribute It To Your Friends. Or Just Share This Blog Link By Email And Social Media

Affordability Petition to the Austin City Council – August 2016

We call upon the Austin City Council to reject the City Manager’s FIscal Year 2017 Budget recommendation. We respectfully ask you to recognize that affordability is the number one civic issue, and to protect the interests of taxpayers by taking the following actions:

1. Make responsible adjustments to the Budget to reduce the effective tax rate increase from 8% to 4% or less, in line with most City Budgets adopted since 2011. Delay or phase in new programs. purchases and staff positions, rather than sacrificing critical community needs. (Annual increases of 8% would cause property taxes to double in 9 years – even sooner if tax appraisals go up).

2. Place all utility charge and utility bill add-on fee increases on hold. Ask the City Manager to report back to the City Council with a much more affordable fee schedule. (The dollar impact of the utility and fee increases is 2.4 times higher than the property tax increase for a typical resident).

3. Provide senior citizen discounts for all utility bill add-on fees. This is necessary since these fees are growing faster than property taxes.

4. Establish a sliding scale for City employee pay raises. Consider a flat dollar amount or a percentage with a dollar cap. Provide living wages for low-income workers. (2.5% raises over 10 years would increase a $150,000 salary by $37,329. But a $30,000 salary would only increase by $7,466. This would promote economic segregation).

5. Allocate equal City resources to retaining existing Austin residents as for recruiting new businesses. Please consider the AustinAffordability.com ”Homeowner Retention Initiative” as a starting point, along with policies and practices to help renters.

6. Establish a formal timeline to rapidly implement the Mayor’s “Music & Creative Ecosystem Stabilization Recommendations.” We need to protect Austin’s creative Industries and our quality of life.

7. Compile a comprehensive list of all City plans, determine estimated costs for each plan, along with a grand total cost for all of the plans. Publish the list on the City’s website. Seek public input to prioritize the plans and develop an affordable timeline for implementing them.

8. Make an official declaration of 2017 as “The Year of Affordability,” and pursue it as vigorously as you did the 2016 declaration for “The Year of Mobility.”

For more details on how the FY 2017 Budget shuns affordability, read this posting.

How to Get the Petition to the City Council

The fastest way is to use this single-click link to email all of them at once. Just tell them you support the AustinAffordability.com Affordability Petition. Or copy and paste it into your email. If you want to distribute printed copies, those can be mailed to: Austin City Council, P.O Box 1088, Austin, Texas 78767.

Come to the Public Hearings Next Thursday, the 18th

Please invite your friends and come to speak at the City Budget and Tax Rate public hearings. These will be held at 4:00 on Thursday August 18 at City Hall, 301 W. 2nd Street. You can sign up to speak on Item # 82 and Item # 84 at the kiosks in the City Hall lobby beginning next Monday, August 15th.

Joint Ownership Options Could Help Keep Austinites In Their Homes

By Bill Oakey – February 24, 2016

One of the biggest problems facing longtime Austin residents is the high cost of property taxes. In recent years we have seen skyrocketing property appraisals that are literally pricing people out of their homes. Neighborhoods across that city that were once affordable are constantly seeing older homes bulldozed and replaced by very expensive luxury housing. This cycle of resident displacement and gentrification is difficult to overcome. Many of the affordable housing options being discussed by City officials consist of fee waivers to developers or geographic tax abatements that ultimately end up shifting the costs to other taxpayers. There are no easy solutions.

Joint Home Ownership Might Help Solve the Problem

Relatives and friends can legally enter into agreements that allow them to share ownership in a home. For example, you could ask a wealthy uncle to buy a 40% stake in your home. One simple way to do that would be for him to put up 40% of the equity that you have have in the home. Then from that point forward, you would pay 60% of the monthly mortgage bill and he would pay 40%. You would also share a 60/40 split on other expenses such as insurance and property taxes. And you would split the Federal income tax mortgage interest deduction. Neither one of you could sell the home without the other’s agreement, but you could sell your interest in the home. If the home is eventually sold, you and your uncle would do a 60/40 split on the proceeds.

Of course, not all of us has a relative or a trusted friend who would be interested in becoming a joint owner of our home. Perhaps the City of Austin should explore new and innovative ways to make joint ownership available for people who find themselves in danger of losing their homes. Right now, you as a homeowner cannot call up your mortgage lender and offer to sell an interest in your home to that lender. There is not a real estate office that you can call and ask to list a percentage of your home for sale on the open market. But if systems like that could be put in place, it might help a lot people be able to afford to stay in their homes.

High housing costs and property taxes also make it difficult for renters to be able to buy a home. Since the end of the recession, the rate of home ownership in the U.S. has declined. Tighter lending standards and student loan debt have made a harder for first-time buyers to get a home loan. CNBC recently published an article entitled, Is a Single-Family Home the New Luxury Item? The same could be asked about condos and townhouses, especially in Austin. A joint ownership option could help reduce the barriers to first-time homebuyers, including the down payment.

I would like for our City officials to consider this idea and discuss it with members of the real estate community. Joint home ownership is legal in Texas, but expanding it to real estate brokers and mortgage lenders could require changes to state or Federal laws. It seems like it would be a boost to the economy and quite helpful to many Austin residents. Many of us might be willing to give up a portion of the investment in their home for an opportunity to enjoy a lower burden of expenses.

Austin And Travis County Should Announce Joint Affordability Initiative

By Bill Oakey – July 15, 2015

In about 7 weeks the City of Austin and Travis County will each have to finalize their Fiscal Year 2016 budgets that will take effect on October 1st. For the past several years, citizens throughout the area have been clamoring for major steps toward affordability. Today I am calling upon City and County officials to make some decisions on what affordability measures and proposals they will include in their new budgets, and to make a public announcement telling the citizens what their affordability plans are. As I have said many times in public presentations – the time for talking about affordability is behind us. The time for action is now.

The Austin American-Statesman has repeatedly editorialized on the need to slow down the growth of the City Budget in particular. Austin’s downtown has added countless high rise buildings that should be adding to the tax base and making it easier to pay for expanding City Services. The same is true for neighborhoods all over town that have seen gigantic new resort-style apartment structures that take up a full block. Traditional neighborhoods in all parts of Austin have seen older homes scraped off and replaced with expensive luxury housing.

So that leaves us with a fundamental question. Where is all the increased tax revenue from all of those high-priced new buildings going? Why are our property taxes continuing to rise so rapidly that people are being priced out of their homes?

What Is the Bottom Line On the Growth of the City and County Budgets?

What you are about to see is not a pretty picture. Notice the rapid increases in the general fund in both of these budgets. That is the fund that is paid for with property taxes, sales taxes and some of the fees

City of Austin
  2010 2015 % Increase
General Fund $614,915,000 $854,040,000 38.9%
Total Budget $2,747,105,000 $3,493,973,000 27.2%

Travis County
  2010 2015 % Increase
General Fund $455,661,280 $650,897,476 42.8%
Total Budget $655,140,525 $910,988,941 39.1%

Has Affordability Been Addressed In These Past Budgets?

You will find that word sprinkled quite liberally throughout the current FY 2015 City Budget. In fact, in Volume 1, it graces the pages no less than 29 times. On Page A-8 within City Manager Marc Ott’s cover letter, he issues the following pronouncement with italics included:

“Carefully balances the service demands of a growing community with ongoing concerns over affordability by proposing a full penny decrease in the tax rate.”

That statement contrasts with the opening sentence on the very first page of the Budget:

“This budget will raise more revenue from property taxes than last year’s budget by an amount of $29,970,162, which is a 6.7 percent increase from last year’s budget. The property tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year is $8,375,296.”

What that means is that existing property owners paid the overwhelming bulk of the tax increase, to the tune of $21,594,866. The word “tax” appears 298 times in the first volume of the three-volume document. The word “fee” shows up 277 times. But, alas, on Page A-15 “affordability” gets its own section heading, with the title “Maintaining Affordability.” Most of the initiatives listed pertain to subsidies and assistance to low-income and senior residents. These are, of course, very worthy programs. But the bottom line for the average homeowner is that total property taxes for all of the taxing entities in Central Texas increased 6.1%, as shown on Page A-16. And that does not include the relentless forward march of the various “add-on fees” that appear on our utility bills.

What Can the Taxpayers Expect Over the Next Five Years?

You would probably be less frightened by spending a weekend alone in a haunted castle during a thunderstorm, while reading a Stephen King novel. But if you care to take a look, here is a glimpse of Page 60 in the City’s current Five Year Financial Forecast:

City of Austin Property Tax Assumptions

Fiscal Year Projected Assessed Valuation Growth Projected Total Tax Rate Projected Operations & Maintenance Revenue
FY 2016 9.0% (actual amount is 11%) 0.4782 $385,500,000
FY 2017 7.0% 0.4850 $420,900,000
FY 2018 7.0% 0.4860 $452,500,000
FY 2019 5.0% 0.5008 $492,700,000
FY 2020 5.0% 0.5192 $540,100,000

This chart assumes that property values and tax rates would both increase at the same time. If that were to happen, it would be in stark contrast from current policy, which has been to reduce the tax rate somewhat, to offset the increase in property assessments. In any case, the City’s O&M revenues are projected to increase 40.1% over the five years. When you look at percentage increases, keep one important factor in mind. As the base dollar amount continues to increase, the percentage applied to that base derives a progressively increasing amount. The same is true of your home valuation and your tax increases. The taxable amount of your home value is capped by law at 10% per year. So, if your home started out a few years ago being valued at $200,000, the 10% cap meant that you could only be taxed at $220,000. That’s a $20,000 increase. But once the value of that same home has doubled to $400,000, then the 10% cap yields a taxable value that is $40,000 higher. This year, as the TCAD map shows, Austin has many zip codes with home appraisal increases into the double digits. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

That’s all the more reason why our City and County officials need to come together and decide on an affordability agenda to be incorporated into their upcoming budgets. A failure to adopt meaningful near-term and long-term reforms would only intensify our already critical economic divide.

Should We Vote to Approve Bonds for a New County Courthouse?

There is no question that Travis County needs a new Civil and Family Courthouse. It is my understanding that no other area taxing entity will place any additional bonds on the November ballot. The current price tag is pegged at $291 million. But Travis County officials are working feverishly to come up with strategies to offset the cost. Discussions have included using fees from after hours parking at the courthouse, certain rental receipts from other County properties, and the sale of other County owned land. Between now and the November election, we will know more about the total amount of those offsets. In addition, the firm that is awarded the contract to build the courthouse could potentially make some design changes that would make the project more efficient.

No decision has yet been made as to whether this blog will endorse the courthouse bonds. But I am hopeful that both the City and the County will join together and demonstrate to the community a serious commitment to affordability. The Travis County Commissioners that I have met with have laid out some innovative ideas for cost-savings, through County-specific initiatives as well as cooperative strategies with the City. Both bodies have appointed representatives to the Regional Affordability Committee. At my suggestion, that committee has embarked on the development of an Affordability Strategic Plan. If the local voters are shown that affordability efforts will finally bear fruit with tangible results, then they are much more likely to stand behind the County Commissioners’ recommendation and vote to approve the courthouse bonds.

Dancing To The Taxpayer Blues

By Bill Oakey – May 29, 2015

A long tall Texan got into his pickup truck and switched on the radio. He listened to the following commentary from a country music deejay down in Austin.

Now folks, I don’t get into politics on this show, but I heard about something the City Council said that I think you should know about. They were talking about an unlevel playing field for property taxes.  Something about the system that isn’t quite right.

Maybe they have a point.  Have you ever sat down in a Texas dance hall and tried to hold onto a beer when the table wasn’t level? Worse case scenario, you would spill some of that beer on your best friend’s wife, right after you danced to “The Last Cheater’s Waltz.” I think we need the City to level our taxes.

I have a nutty friend who spends a lot of time reading City financial reports. Darned if he didn’t tell me that the City Manager is promising once again to “hold the line on the tax rate.” Man, they’ve been pulling the wool over our eyes every year on that stuff. Willie Nelson, Norah Jones and Wynton Marsalis nailed it with the song, “Here We Go Again.” Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of truth in taxation?

The high taxes have priced people so far out into the suburbs that it’s a wonder more of them don’t fall Asleep at the Wheel while sitting in traffic. I can see why the character in George Strait’s song, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” now hangs his hat in Tennessee. He couldn’t afford his Austin taxes.

And it keeps getting worse. The end of year tax deadline is not a whole lot of fun. In 1974, Merle Haggard released a sad but hopeful tune called, “If We Make It Through December.” He must have known what was coming down the pike in Austin.

All right folks, it’s time for me to get off my soapbox and get back to some more hit music. Here’s one I think you’ll enjoy called, “When I’m Under the Table, I’ll Be Over You.”

hat

City Council Unanimously Approves Commercial Tax Appraisal Challenge

By Bill Oakey – May 28, 2015

In a historic move likely to elicit statewide attention, The Austin City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to proceed with a formal challenge of commercial property valuations to the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD). Several citizen speakers, including Leigh Murrin with Real Values for Texas and Vicki Totten with Austin Fair Tax spoke eloquently in favor of the challenge.

The rallying cry from both citizens and our Council Members this afternoon was all about fairness. In my view, this decidedly bold step will enable our City to shine a beacon for fairness across the state. Mayor Steve Adler summed up the sentiments when he stated that “Everyone here on the Council dais agrees that our appraisal system is broken.” What Austin has done will inspire other cities to sit up and take notice that the battle has begun. We all recognize that comprehensive tax reform must be done through the State Legislature. Although that task has seemed insurmountable in the past, we now find ourselves on a firm path toward that goal. People seeking to galvanize the spirits of taxpayers across the state have witnessed the lighting of the spark today. With a lot of hard work yet to come, our sights are already fixed on the 2017 legislative session.

Mayor Adler has signaled a strong desire for a spirit of cooperation among the various taxing jurisdictions impacted by today’s decision. Discussions are underway with various involved parties to ensure that each taxing entity is kept in the loop at every step of the process.  Earlier concerns expressed about potential delays in tax roll certifications and possible interruptions in revenue disbursements are being addressed quite satisfactorily. One solution being considered is to send estimated bills to taxpayers, so they can make their annual payments at the usual time and still claim their Federal income tax deductions.

We must all keep in mind, however, that the opponents of this action will be working every bit as hard to counter the success of our challenge. On that note, we are fortunate to have new City leadership with good experience and expertise. Mayor Adler, who brings many years of legal practice to the table, has established a cooperative tone at the outset. And by voting unanimously to support the appraisal challenge, the entire City Council approaches the endeavor on a united front.

Several City Council Members mentioned the compelling need to address affordability in Austin. They acknowledged that rapidly escalating tax appraisals are an oppressive burden for long-term residents, including many in our minority communities. It was also announced today that TCAD staff and City officials will work together over the next two weeks to take the necessary steps to ensure that the challenge does not impede the critical functions of each taxing authority. TCAD has assured everyone that no adverse effects will happen during that initial two-week period.

On Friday morning at 10:00 AM the Travis County Commissioners Court will meet in executive session to consider their role in Austin’s appraisal challenge.

Come And Speak 4:00 PM Thursday At City Council On Tax Appraisal Challenge

By Bill Oakey – May 26, 2015

The Austin City Council must decide by June 1st whether to launch a landmark challenge to the Travis Central Appraisal District over the undervalued commercial properties in this year’s tax appraisals. You can help convince them make the right decision to go forward with the appeal. Come to the City Council Chambers at 301 West 2nd Street, this Thursday May 28th. Bring your neighbors and friends. Email, text, Tweet and Facebook the link to this blog posting. We have obtained a 4:00 time certain for speakers on this topic, which is Item #4 on the agenda. You can sign up to speak, using the kiosks in the lobby of the Council Chambers anytime between now and Thursday’s meeting.

Please keep in mind that this is not an adversarial action against the TCAD appraisal officials. They have been very cooperative with our City Council members and City staff. This is the legally required process to correct major flaws caused by the Texas appraisal system. The law does not require sales price disclosure on either residential or commercial real estate transactions.

Here are some new developments on the Council’s pending decision on the appraisal challenge. Two major stumbling blocks could cause Travis County, AISD, or any of the other taxing entities in our area to oppose Austin’s challenge to TCAD. Both involve a potential delay in TCAD’s new certification of the tax rolls after the revised commercial appraisals have been calculated.

For one thing, taxpayers who usually make their payments to the Travis County Tax Office at the end of the year might lose the opportunity to do that, and then lose their Federal income tax deduction for this year. But a solution to that problem was discussed at Tuesday’s City Council Work Session. A plan is underway to allow taxpayers to pay an estimated tax by the end of the year and still use that for their Federal tax deduction. Then they would simply make a final supplemental payment once the new tax rolls are certified and final tax bill amounts are determined. With these tax receipts coming in, the taxing entities would not face a delay in receiving the revenues needed to fund their operations.

Plans are also being considered that might allow TCAD to certify the new tax rolls faster and shorten the delay period. City Council members are looking into whether each taxing entity could make a small contribution to TCAD and the Travis County Tax Office, so they could hire temporary workers to help them through the clerical work required to finish the new certification and get new tax notices sent out

We’ll see you in the City Council Chambers on Thursday afternoon. We are one step closer to ending the egregious inequity of undervalued commercial properties that has plagued residential taxpayers for too many years. For more information on the flawed Texas appraisal system, please visit Real Values for Texas at this link. Read their report and watch their excellent video.

City Report On Tax Appraisal Inequities Draws Outrage

By Bill Oakey – May 21, 2015

On Tuesday May 19th, a blue ribbon panel of City and County officials and other top leaders addressed an emotional crowd at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin. The topic was property tax appraisals. The speaker lineup included:

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner
Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin
Kathie Tovo, City of Austin Mayor Pro Tem
Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor
Marya Crigler, Travis Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser
Dick Lavine, Center for Public Policy Priorities
Leigh Murrin, Real Values for Texas

If you missed this event, please consider watching the full video here. It was highly informative, even if you thought you knew quite a bit about our tax appraisal system and how unjust it is. The combined factual and emotional impact is quite stunning. The City of Austin is considering filing a formal appeal of the undervalued commercial properties here in Austin. Estimates vary, but in many cases, large commercial buildings have been found to be undervalued by 40% or more.

On May 11th, the City released its detailed report on undervalued commercial properties. You can read the full report here. The panelists at the Tax Appraisal Forum discussed this blistering report, as well as details on the flawed tax appraisal system here in Texas. The cards are stacked so heavily against residential homeowners that the situation qualifies as a national disgrace. There are risks associated with the contemplated action by the City of filing a formal appeal to the Travis Central Appraisal District. The appeal could cause a delay in certifying this year’s tax rolls. Over 100 area taxing jurisdictions have been asked to weigh in on the appeal decision. But if the City indeed makes good on its formal challenge, the entire State of Texas would sit up and take notice. Fighting for justice can be a treacherous battle, just like any battle throughout history for a noble cause.

Affordability in Austin has reached an epic tipping point. You will see in the video of the panel discussion, that the citizens who spoke during the Q&A displayed emotions ranging from frustration to full-on anger. The appraisal inequities are only part of a bigger picture. Austin is growing at a breakneck speed, putting unprecedented pressure on home values and rents. Unlike businesses of all sizes, cities and counties do not carefully plan the pace of their growth. They do not add up the costs of all of their combined expansion plans that taxpayers go into debt and pay annual taxes to fund. It is more a matter of “build first and ask questions later.” That path, as everyone knows, can and often does result in spectacular boom and bust cycles. Perhaps we can convince our local officials to conduct a “Pre-Mortem” to determine how much we the citizens can realistically afford to pay for the cost of growth. And at what pace that growth can be deemed to be “affordable” for anyone but the most wealthy amongst us.

The State of Texas does not require sales price disclosure on either residential or commercial properties. We are one of only a few states that lacks this requirement. This sets up the flawed appraisal protest system, where the big boys can out-lawyer and out-spend not only the average homeowner, but the Appraisal Districts as well. Believe it or not, any cases that the Appraisal Districts lose in court require them to pay the commercial property owners’ legal fees. But if the case is decided in favor of us lowly taxpayers, we still have to pay the people’s side of the legal fees. The scales of justice are as titled as they can be. Attempts at reform during the current Legislative session went mostly nowhere, just as they have in every previous session going back for eons.

If you have a strong enough stomach, try to make yourself comfortable and watch this informative video on the inequity issues in our tax appraisal system. Thanks to the good folks at Real Values for Texas for their tireless efforts to push for reforms.