Travis Co. Commissioners vote down property tax challenge

AUSTIN-Travis County Commissioners voted down a challenge to the way commercial properties are appraised late Tuesday afternoon.

The challenge petition would have more than likely triggered a legal battle, one that homeowners hoped would fix what they call a broken system.

Angry homeowners packed Travis County Commissioners Court testifying and holding signs. They say commercial property owners aren't paying their fair share and say they are bearing the burden. Gretchen Gardner says her property taxes skyrocketed from $225 dollars a year to $8,600 since she moved to the Bouldin area 23 years ago.

"That's 20 percent of my income so by my calculations I'm going to have to leave in 2 years," said Gardner.

County Commissioners voted down a proposal to challenge the way the Travis County Appraisal District assesses commercial property values.

Attorney Buck Wood used to be on the appraisal board and testified commercial property owners often fight their appraisals in court, cutting their tax bills, leaving homeowners on the hook. One group, Real Values for Texas, estimates Travis County has lost nearly $760 million dollars over the past five years because of the current system.

"This has gotten entrenched slowly, but now it's to ridiculous proportions and everybody knows it," said Wood.

Groups who represent commercial real estate testified, too. They say some commercial property owners do pay their fair share.
The building at 823 Congress Avenue sold for $32.5 million and the county appraised it at $32 million, and a building at 816 Congress sold for $102 million, and appraised even higher at $104.

"These big office towers downtown, in addition to property tax they pay gross margin tax on rental income they bring in," said Nancy McDonald with the Real Estate Council of Austin.


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