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Property tax assessment, up or down?
© by Bonnie McKenna
Observer Intern



Did the Houston city council raise or lower property tax?

  There was a heated debate in the Oct. 26 city council meeting that pitted 2 members of the city council against Mayor White and the rest of the council.  At stake was a reduction in property taxes by $ .25 per $100 assessed value.

  City Council members Addie Wiseman and Shelly Sekula-Gibbs, M.D., argued, at times heatedly, that the proposed quarter of one cent reduction in tax is actually a tax increase. 

  Sound confusing?  It is.

  The issue was confused by two factors:

  • Inflated property values result in more taxes despite being taxed at the same tax rate. 
  • The language of State Bill 18.  S.B 18 compels a taxing jurisdiction to put the truth back in taxation by requiring language that accurately reflects the action of the taxing authority.

The city budget, passed earlier this year, is based on a property tax rate of $ .65 per $100 assessed value.  In an effort to provide some tax relief from the city property tax assessment an amendment was proposed to reduce the tax rate by one quarter of one cent or $.6475 per $100 of value.  The effective rate, set by property evaluation is $.64173 per $100 of value.

“It is not our money and we must show some fiscal discipline,” said Mayor White.

Wiseman, during the council meeting, made many efforts for discussion on the amendment and called, numerous times, for points of order on how the meeting was being conducted.  

“It is a frustration and a challenge, everyone should pick up a copy of Roberts Rules of Order,” she said.

Waving her copy of the rules, she likened the lack of understanding of the rules to a baseball game played where the team management argued, in front of the whole world, how the game is to be played. 

“We need to reduce the tax rate to the effective tax rate.  City council is voting to raise taxes.  The tax payer deserves honesty.  You have to answer to your constituents.  The offer is to reduce the amount we are raising taxes.  The only way is to set the tax rate at the effective rate,” she added.

“The city is not raising taxes, but because of the appraisals some people will pay more,” White said.

The property tax evaluation value has been set higher and that equates to a higher tax.  The representative from district B noted, during the meeting, that some property values in her district doubled. 

Despite all the posturing and arguing over the semantics of the tax proposal no vote was taken.  The issue was tabled.  By tabling the proposal, the proposal of reducing the taxes by $ .25 per $100 valuation passed.

According to S.B 18, City Councilman Adrian Garcia, who proposed the tax ordinance, had to read into the record, “I move that the property taxes be increased by the adoption of a tax rate of 64.75 cents per $100 valuation.”

“Excuse me will you read that again,” asked Wiseman.  Garcia reread the statement.  “I am sorry I did not hear what you said,” Wiseman asked again, insisting she did not hear him.  Garcia reiterated the statement.  “Was that increase or decrease?” she asked.  “Increase,” Garcia emphasized.  “Thank you, I just wanted to be clear as the two words sound somewhat the same,” she added.

After the meeting, both sides of the issue released statements to the press.

Wiseman said she was outraged at the attempt by those who supported the tax increase to portray it as a tax cut.  She was also frustrated at the lack of understanding, by council members, of their responsibility as a taxing body.

“It is alarming that we have elected officials that should be fully informed in the process of what their responsibilities are.  It certainly contributed to the fiasco down in the chamber,” she told supporters.

Garcia took credit for proposing property tax relief to the citizens of Houston .  His proposal to decrease taxes by one quarter of one cent passed by a no vote, thirteen to two .

Is it a decrease in taxes by one quarter of a cent or an increase in taxes when the effective tax rate reflects inflated property values?