The coronavirus pandemic is a disaster.
In every way possible, what has transpired across our country and state is the very definition of a disaster.
While it’s not one that has heaped physical destruction on our communities, the fallout from the pandemic has sowed economic uncertainty and worry to every part of our nation.
During this time, the state of Texas is faced with a lot of difficult choices, and one of those is around property taxes. In what we normally define as a disaster — hurricane, flood, fire or tornado — this would qualify a community for relief from an impending tax bill.
By all accounts from those across Kerr County, those tax bills may end up being steep because valuations were lower than what the state thought was accurate. That may very well be the case, but what we are experiencing now is of a scale that many find hard to comprehend.
While some pine for COVID-19 to magically disappear, it’s unlikely that the virus will leave us anytime soon. What we can hope for is the power of our science and medicine to prevail against this unseen monster, but we can control the amount of misery we instill upon each other.
Many families across Kerrville will be faced with a significant tax increase when those property tax bills are released later this year. It’s most likely going to be a big hit, especially for those who are weathering the current uncertainty of this time.
The Kerrville City Council showed exemplary leadership in passing a resolution asking for Gov. Greg Abbott to consider calling the state legislature into a special session to freeze property taxes at the 2019 values because this is a disaster.
However, Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote an opinion last month that said coronavirus is not covered under a disaster exemption from House Bill 3, which was passed last year by the Texas Legislature. We beg to differ with the attorney general’s opinion.
We’ve seen the economic toll on our business, the businesses of our clients and of our readers. This is about as big a disaster as we’ve ever seen. We also don’t know how the rest of the year will look, because there are so many unanswered questions.
So, instead of providing relief, all indications are that the governor has no intention of calling the legislature into session before 2021. Admittedly, he’s dealing with some limitations, but this is an extraordinary time in our state and country.
Now, the cities are faced with a difficult choice — they can move to lower the effective tax rate, or they can just let the rates increase without a fight. Most likely, they will have to allow them to be raised. After all, cities such as Kerrville have been hit hard by the collapse of major consumer spending that fuels a key revenue piece for city services — sales tax.
In the end, who will be the bad guy here? Not Abbott or Paxton, although Paxton’s callous interpretation of the bill might make him a contender. Instead, it will fall on the local governments who have to make the difficult choices to go along with these raises or to cut essential city services to help the taxpayers through this time.
Not an easy choice, but one that could be made a lot easier if the state stepped up and did its part.