Travis County is putting a moratorium on the practice of giving property tax breaks to companies that agree to expand here and meet minimum county requirements, including agreeing to invest at least $25 million and hire more than 100 people.
The incentives program was set up to lure business investment and expand the county’s tax base.
County staff recommended county commissioners vote to temporarily halt the program in light of a new state law that will require voter approval for any property tax revenue increase over 3.5 percent, not including taxation on new development. The law goes into effect next year.
In a briefing this week, county budget staff said parts of the policy were written without careful consideration of how to enforce compliance. They said they also wanted to talk to other counties to figure out best practices.
Seven companies are getting preferential tax treatment from the county, including Apple, Charles Schwab and The Domain shopping center. The county's most expensive agreement is with Samsung; Travis County has rebated $65 million in property taxes to Samsung since 2009, county staff say. Those agreements will remain in effect during the moratorium.
“I don’t think we’re saying, ‘Stop any future work with the business community,’” County Commissioner Brigid Shea said before voting to impose the moratorium. “What our staff, our professional staff – who I respect – is telling us is, we need to take a break while we reevaluate what policy would make sense, and I think that’s a very reasonable proposal.”
The Austin Chamber of Commerce opposed the moratorium, saying the incentives program could allow Travis County to expand its tax base just as it’s facing new state restrictions on increasing tax revenue.
“During such a time of moratorium, there could be opportunities for the county to be involved where it could get an additional $2 million in [property tax] revenue from a new business coming here,” Chamber president Mike Rollins said, without revealing what the business was.
“At a time when, I think, all revenue is going to be important, we need to grow it,” he said.