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Austin ISD Board To Mull Historic Tax Exemptions Tonight

Image courtesy Austin ISD
This map shows the location of historic landmarks in Austin. The school board is getting ready to decide whether to reinstate a program that gives tax breaks to the owners of those properties.

Until last summer, if you lived in a home that was deemed to be a historical landmark, you could get a big break on your school property tax bill. That came to an end in August 2010, when the Austin ISD school board decided to suspend those exemptions in the face of a looming fiscal crisis. Tonight, the board is scheduled to talk about whether to reinstate the program.

People who lived in historical landmark homes could get a 50 percent cut from the tax on the home and 25 percent cut from the tax on the land. The exemption was good for up to $2,000 or half their AISD tax bill, which ever was greater.

People who benefit from the program showed up at a recent district budget hearing to argue that it wasn't just their pocket books that benefit from the historical tax exemption.

"I'm not the owner of a historic home, but I greatly appreciate the value that they bring to the city," Mandy Dealey told board members on April 25.  "In terms of sustaining and supporting property values, providing us a glimpse of our city history in how we've evolved, and underscoring the diversity of our town."

But some people believe the school district needs all the money it can get right now, and should suspend tax exemptions for historically-designated properties.

"Please leave that to those in the economic development business," Debbie Hamerly, an AISD teacher, told board members.

As the Austin Chronicle reported, the school district keeps less than a third of the money it would collect from those properties.

Due to the complexities of the state public education system, it's true that the district would only keep a fraction of the $1.8 million extra it would collect. But altogether, AISD would net about $373,000. About $278,000 of that would go to bond repayment, leaving about $95,000 for maintenance and operations spending; money for teaching would be a portion of that.

When the Austin school board voted to suspend the tax exemptions in August, 2010, it said was doing so pending a full review from the city. That review is now complete, and was presented to city council last month.

City staff said historical tax exemptions increase tourism spending, raise property values, and increased reinvestments in neighborhoods. They recommended continuing the program but also tightening the standards for a property to receive an exemption. Read the full report here.

Board members will also have a chance to review this document tonight, which explains tax exemption programs in other Texas cities, like Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth.

No vote is scheduled on tax exemption program tonight. The meeting is public and takes place at Austin ISD headquarters.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.