OPINION — Property owners in Tom Green County, including me, are angry, dismayed, and in desperate need of relief. We are left feeling impotent in the face of exorbitant property tax valuations.
When I was elected mayor in 2003, San Angelo was the highest taxed city in Texas. This was not a distinction to be proud of. Early on, it became clear that yearly appraisal district reevaluations were a convenient way to generate additional tax revenue without raising the tax rate. This gave elected officials across the board a reprieve from making tough decisions.
Yearly tax reappraisals where bringing in millions of additional dollars to the tax coffers. At the time, Tom Green County tax payers were coughing up roughly $250,000,000 dollars per year through property taxes and fees to operate our city, county and school district. It got to the point that the city council began reducing the tax rate year after year to rebate unnecessary tax revenue. I am unaware of any other city in Texas that made the same effort during this period of time.
Louis Hall, a friend, supporter, and fierce fiscal conservative, had enough with the yearly property tax increases. He called me. Something had to be done. Being an out-of-the-box politician, I suggested putting up a billboard in protest. He loved the idea. We asked Suzi Marshall at Q Printing to design the billboard that read: Welcome to San Angelo, the 2nd Highest Taxed City in Texas.
Louis sponsored this billboard on Loop 306 and Butler Farm exit for one year. It created quite a fuss and some necessary introspection. Soon thereafter, I appointed Louis to the Tom Green County Appraisal District board of directors. The hope was that a fierce fiscal conservative could make a difference for area tax payers.
This week, I called Louis to reminisce over our efforts to draw attention to the out-of-control property tax valuations and cost of running our city, county and school district.
Louis made a valiant effort to represent TGC taxpayers. My takeaway from talking to Louis is that the TGC Appraisal District employees are nice public servants. They make a diligent effort to reassess individual properties on a three year cycle. It’s a meticulous effort. However, the Texas Comptroller among other State authorities send in officials to critique the efforts of our local appraisal district. Effectively, the diligent efforts of our local folks can be challenge and “overruled” with a cursory audit from Austin bureaucrats. Louis tells me that our local folks were routinely overruled and our school finance appropriations were threatened if certain appraisal numbers were not adjusted, upwards.
If true, which I believe, we are caught up in a disgusting charade. We think we have local control, but we really don’t.
San Angeloans, and our fellow Texans, have tolerated an out-of-control and an incredibly nuanced system of tax assessment for too long. We are catching on to this subtle game. Do we really own our property? Or have we slowly become lease holders to the government? After all, if you cannot pay your property taxes, then you can be taxed out of your home.
Something must change. Enough is enough.
Joseph W Lown
Former mayor of San Angelo, Texas