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Travis County looking to set limits on tax exemptions for historic properties

Tuesday, July 3, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Travis County Commissioners appear ready to enact a set of limits on property tax exemptions for owners of area historic homes. The move would follow on the heels of similar action taken by members of the Austin City Council last year.


Commissioners seem to be headed toward a hard $2,500 property tax exemption limit for newly designated or purchased historic homes. They are posted for action on that proposal as part of today’s Commissioners Court meeting.


Last Tuesday, Commissioners heard an update on historic exemptions from retiring county Budget Director Leroy Nellis. Nellis had come before the court in 2011 with a pitch to reduce the county’s historic tax exemption. That savings, Nellis argued, would allow county officials to recalibrate the exemption for Travis County homeowners who are over-65 and/or disabled, a figure which hasn’t been adjusted since fiscal year 1994.


That recommendation came out of a tax equity committee that Nellis was a part of. “Since the charge of the committee was tax equity,” he said at the time, “we felt that since the average homestead was $81,250 and somebody in fiscal year ’94 that was over 65 was paying zero … the intention there, we believe, was to eliminate the tax on people 65 and older … We believe that the 65 and over exemption has not kept pace with inflation and the intent.” (See In Fact Daily, April 18, 2011.)


Commissioners elected to wait until the City of Austin reformed its rules on historic tax exemptions. That happened last December.


After hearing from Nellis and City of Austin Planning and Development Review department representative Jerry Rusthoven last Tuesday, County Judge Sam Biscoe was ready to move – pending a bit more public input.


“It seems to me that it would make all the sense in the world to adopt a policy similar to what the city has in place,” Biscoe said. “If we’re going to do that then I would like – I think we ought – to post it for at least some public input. … I strongly feel like we ought to give them that opportunity.”


That could happen today. Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt reiterated her desire to stick with the tax equity’s suggestion to use any county savings from the historic tax exemption cap to reconfigure the 65-and-over exemption. She made reference to the fact that the figure hasn’t been adjusted since 1994.


“(The exemption) is so small that it’s not having its intended effect,” Eckhardt told In Fact Daily Monday afternoon.

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