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State Lawmakers Hit the Road to Gather Feedback on Property Tax Appraisal System

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Some Texas lawmakers and other officials are trying to tackle what’s seen as a problem with property taxes. The Texas Senate Select Property Tax Reform and Relief committee is hosting a series of Road Meetings throughout the state.

In Texas, property taxation has increased at a rate about three times faster than the median household income. So far the committee has been to San Antonio, Harlingen and Lubbock, collecting public testimony on the appraisal system and discussing suggested solutions the state could take. The committee went to Lubbock in late March and was met with a bit of pushback from some residents and representatives of the surrounding area, including when Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole said that the state should not pass a cap or a “blanket solution” over the state.

“You don't want Washington D.C. to take away your local control, and we darn sure don't want you taking away our local control,” Harpole said. “Elections take care of that.”

In both Lubbock and Amarillo, two of the bigger cities in the Panhandle area, city and county property tax levies have increased at a much faster rate than the median household income. The Amarillo mayor had a short disagreement with some board members over the comptroller numbers on the levy rates, which are provided by the city.

“If you’re going to be impassioned, I'm going to be impassioned back,” State Senator and committee chairman Paul Bettencourt said to Harpole. “Because you’re arguing against your own numbers.”

Some residents and representatives from surrounding areas said that they wanted local authorities to decide on tax rates. The Spearman City Manager Suzanne Bellsnyder said that smaller areas should not be held to the same standard as larger urban areas.

“I know how important it is to protect taxpayers and property owners, but y'all need to know that there are cities out here that are workhorses doing what we're supposed to be doing with our funds,” Bellsnyder said.

She also addressed what defined local control, a question asked by Sen. Van Taylor earlier in the meeting.

“In terms of definition of local control, that is church, that's the Friday night football game, it's the post office, and I get it, and my council members get it on a daily basis,” she said. “There is no better local control out there.”

Many representatives said the higher expenses of a rollback election would be a burden on smaller cities and towns, which already run on a tighter budget. Many echoed that the Appraisal Review Board process should be separate from the Central Appraisal District process, and called for better training and accountability for ARB members. Residents wanted more transparency in the fee and wanted to know what they were paying for and where the money was going. The committee will make their next stop at the University of Texas at Arlington on April 27.