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Can Anything Be Done to Lower Austin's Property Taxes?
Many people in Travis County were shocked to learn how much their property values – and consequently, their property taxes – might go up this year. ";s:

The deadline to file a protest regarding your property tax appraisal is fast approaching – Monday, June 2.

Many people in Travis County are shocked to learn how much their property values – and consequently, their property taxes ­– might go up this year. County officials say valuations have risen roughly 15 percent on average this year. But as seen in this local Reddit discussion, many homeowners are facing 25 percent and 30 percent increases ­– and higher.

Sticker shock is so prevalent, Travis County Commissioners say their phones haven't stopped ringing from residents calling, asking for help. 

Commissioners are hearing from people like 61-year-old George Jones. He's a retired engineer who is "outraged" about his property tax increase – outraged to the point he's thinking about selling.

Selling his home – the place where his son was born 24 years ago, and where his wife has written several novels – is something he never thought he'd consider, after carefully budgeting for retirement three years ago. When he did his research, he learned that with a homestead exemption, tax rates can't rise any higher than 10 percent. But he believes counties have found a way around it by increasing a property’s appraised value. "I was talking to someone just last weekend," Jones says, "whose appraised value went up by almost 50 percent."

How can appraised values increase so much? At the Commissioners Court meeting this week, Travis Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler was there to explain.

"The Constitution requires my office to assess every property in proportion to their market value," she said – meaning Crigler looks at how much houses are selling for in any given neighborhood to help determine a property's value. The blessing (and the curse) is that homes in Travis County are selling fast, and for much more than they did just a few years ago. Those increases have an impact on everyone’s taxes.

Crigler cited statistics that are all-too-familiar to anyone following Austin's explosive growth – that Travis County is seventh nationally in housing cost increases, "and the demand for housing continues to outstrip the supply."

So what can be done to lower a person's property taxes?

Consultants suggest refraining from doing any major improvements before an appraiser visits your home once you protest. Also, being present when the appraisal occurs, to point out your home's flaws, could help lower your property’s appraised value.

In Travis County, the appraisal district also offers exemptions if the house is your primary residence and if you are elderly. But other than that, county officials say their hands are tied. At the commissioners meeting this week, Crigler confirmed that only the Texas Legislature could alter the process. The Travis Central Appraisal District, Crigler said, is "governed by the Texas property tax code, and the legislature is the one that makes changes to the property tax code."

For his part, George Jones hopes the legislature acts. He considers himself fortunate to have a home that's paid for – but he fears he won't be able keep up with taxes. And Jones says he hasn’t found another place he can afford in Austin.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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