By Bill Aleshire
In helping a client with a tax issue involving Travis and Hays counties, I was surprised to learn how much higher property taxes are in Hays County for the same value home. Some may think it’s because of skyrocketing tax appraisals, but that is not true. Hays County homeowners’ taxes are higher than necessary (and higher than those in Travis County) because your Hays officials, especially the commissioners court and school boards have not adopted the 20% homestead exemption authorized by Texas Tax Code section 11.13(n). By comparison, Travis County, the city of Austin, and Lake Travis ISD have adopted it.
For 2022, the average market value of homes in Hays County is $451,296, much lower than the average market value in Travis of $632,208. But the taxable value of the average home in Hays is $431,709, higher than the average taxable value in Travis of $338,344. This shows you the impact of the homestead exemption. Hays County (with a 2021 tax rate of $0.3629) gives a 1% ($5,000) exemption, compared to Travis (with a lower tax rate of $0.357365) gives the 20% exemption. Dripping Springs ISD (with a 2021 tax rate of $1.3103/$100 gives just $25,000 exemption (a flat-rate exemption that is eaten away by appraisal increases), but Lake Travis ISD (with a lower tax rate of $1.2301/$100) gives $5,000 plus 20% exemption.
I suspect the higher property taxes in Hays County exists because most Hays homeowners do not realize why their taxes are so high. The truth is your Hays homeowner taxes are higher because your elected officials have not done everything the Tax Code allows them to do to give you a break on your taxes.
I emailed the members of the Hays County Commissioners Court asking why they have not adopted higher exemptions. Only Commissioner Snell responded, for which I am thankful. But he hasn’t supported the 20% exemption for some of the same false reasons the city of Austin officials delayed adopting it. They wished the law was different and capped the 20% exemption; the exemption won’t give the full amount of savings if the tax rate goes up. It used to be, but is no longer so, that increasing the exemption reduced tax revenue and caused a budget problem. I am impressed to see that Hays County has adopted the Over-65/Disabled Homestead tax Freeze, but that doesn’t apply to most homesteads.
There is some good news: It is not too late for the county and ISD boards to put this on their agenda and adopt it to apply to 2022 taxes. As a former Travis County Tax Collector and County Judge, I know there is no good excuse for not giving homeowners—especially in these tough economic times—all the tax relief that is within the power of the Hays elected officials to give. After reading this letter, I hope Hays homeowners will stand up for themselves and their families and that their elected officials will take action now.