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County adopts new tax rate

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court formally adopted a brand new property tax rate on Tuesday.

The unanimous vote marked the last major action in this year’s version of the annual budget dance. It was a relatively placid affair, given the sharp rhetoric about affordability that defined last year’s local elections.

The new tax rate for the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, is 41.69 cents per $100 of property valuation. That’s nearly 4 cents lower than the previous tax rate of 45.63 cents per $100 of valuation.

The new rate is also the lightest burden on county property owners since 2008, when it stood at 41.22 cents per $100 of valuation.

But don’t expect to pay last decade’s tax bills. Rising property values throughout the region mean that local governments, including Travis County, are raking in more revenue even with lower tax rates.

In the last year, average taxable value of homesteads in the county increased by nearly 10 percent to $262,520. That means the owner of a home with the average property value assessment will pay a $1,094.45 tax bill in January, or only 79 cents less than last year.

“I do want folks to know our colleagues over at the city did manage a steeper decrease this year than we did,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said just before the vote. “But that’s because they just instituted an increase in their homestead exemption whereas, as Commissioner (Ron) Davis is often fond of saying, we are at the 20 percent ceiling on the homestead exemption and have been for a long time.”

“Decades,” answered Planning and Budget Office County Executive Jessica Rio.

Indeed, the county has had a 20-percent homestead exemption for some time, while Austin City Council only this summer adopted a 6-percent homestead exemption. Several Council members, including Mayor Steve Adler, won their campaigns last year on the promise of enacting tax relief equal to what the county offers.

Commissioner Brigid Shea, who along with Eckhardt won her first term in November, also made affordability a key campaign issue. However, since the county already offered the maximum exemption allowed by state law, the fruit didn’t hang quite as low for the commissioners.

They were able, however, to raise the exemption for seniors and disabled homeowners from $70,000 to $75,000.

In any case, the commissioners never faced any outspoken criticism as they cooked up this year’s budget and tax rate. Only one of three scheduled public hearings on the proposed rate saw residents signed up to speak, and the theme of the remarks that night was tangential at best.

The Austin Monitor even tried to reach out to the Travis County Taxpayers Union, a group that is usually reliably outspoken about matters of government spending, but did not receive a response as of Tuesday night.

The new tax rate will fund the budget the commissioners adopted last week for the fiscal year that went into effect on Oct. 1. At $951 million, the new budget is $40 million larger than the previous year.

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