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Travis County votes to wait to adjust 65-and-over property tax exemption

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 by Michael Kanin

It appears unlikely that senior citizens and disabled people in Travis County will see an increase in their property tax exemption – yet.


The Travis County Commissioners’ Court voted last week to hold off on an increase in the county tax exemption it offers to area residents who are 65 and older and those who are disabled. The court’s action came after it decided to wait to make any changes to the tax break that it extends to owners of historic properties.


Residents who qualify for the benefit may continue to subtract $65,000 from the value of the property on which they are taxed.


However, County Judge Sam Biscoe signaled his intention to further address the combined issue at some later date. “We said we would put our heads together and figure out what we would like to see in (the) historic properties exemption program,” he said, adding that the court should continue to actively examine its tax exemptions.


The county had impaneled a study group to examine its various tax exemptions. It was also told to recommend any changes to those benefits. Travis County Budget Director Leroy Nellis – who also served on the group – presented its findings to the court in April (see In Fact Daily, April 6, 2011). Among the group’s findings, it suggested that Travis Commissioners should reduce the county’s historic tax exemption and use the savings from that transaction to raise the break it offers to seniors and the disabled.


“The committee was attempting to make it a revenue-neutral calculation in conjunction with a historic exemption,” Nellis said.


He noted that, without an adjustment to the historic exemption, a $5,000 increase in the amount that seniors can exclude from their property values could cost the county more than $500,000.


Biscoe stated his desire to return to their efforts. “I didn’t just give up on every recommendation that our group brought back,” he said.


Last week, the county elected to wait until the City of Austin decides on any changes it will make to its historic tax exemption. Since that action, it was reported that there could be some movement in that direction as early as this August. Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt wondered if that development could grant the county the space to act on its historic tax exemption policies in time to make a change for the 2012 tax year.


“If that settlement were to come in before (July) 14th … would we be able to apply (a historic exemption) cap for this year and use the off-set for the over-65 and disabled?” she asked.


Nellis told here that this might be tough. “It is my understanding … that (you) could not guarantee that if the court or the council took action after July 5th, (you) couldn’t guarantee that it would get into the certified roll,” he said.


Still, Eckhardt asked staff to come up with a date by which the court could make a change. “I thought we ought to know the absolute drop-dead date just in case there is a required action on the city’s part,” she said.


The court – including Eckhardt – voted 4-0 to move forward with no change to the 65-and-over exemption. Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis was absent.

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