Austin, Travis County leaders host property tax forum

AUSTIN -- Nearly 300 people packed into an Austin church Tuesday night for a forum with city and county leaders to discuss property taxes

"We know this is a very emotional issue," said Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, who organized the event.

"I am paying $6,500 for a small bungalow," said Austin homeowner Bob Kaler.

Kaler and his wife bought their modest Central Austin house in 1978 with plans to raise a family and retire, something the 72-year-old architect still can't do.

"Any one else with the savings I have and the investments I've made could. But the problem is I have to keep over $100,000 in an account that draws five and a half percent just to pay my property taxes," said Kaler. "That's absurd."

He charted out his property tax bill over 37 years. It's increased about 1,500 percent. He's gone from paying about $400 a year to more than $6,500.

"This will finally drive me out of my home," Kaler said. "It was so shocking to finally realize that I was probably going to have to move from my home that it caused major health problems in myself and my family."

Increased property values, which lead to more expensive tax bills, are something every Austin homeowner deals with. Renters also take a hit because rental rates often increase as a result as well.

Properties are appraised at market value, but Travis County Chief Tax Appraiser Marya Crigler said because the state won't disclose sales price information, her office has little data to use.

Another problem is experts say commercial properties in Austin are significantly undervalued. That puts more of a tax burden on homeowners to fund the city's budget. Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo is sponsoring a resolution to fight that. It will challenge commercial property appraisals.

"It absolutely could, if we're successful, result in lower taxes for homeowners," Tovo said.

The council is set to vote on the resolution Thursday. Leaders are also looking at increasing the homestead tax exemption. In addition, Kaler would like a tax cap for seniors from the city and county, similar to what other cities have.


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