Your property tax bill has a lot of moving parts. Some of those parts are moving in different directions, and that’s likely to take a bite out of the relief many Texans, including those living in Austin, are expecting.
First, the good news – thanks to billions of new dollars set aside by the Texas Legislature through House Bill 3, school districts across the state are cutting their property tax rates for the first time in years – generally by 5% to 8%.
But here’s where you must pay close attention to the math: Lawmakers didn’t cut your school tax bills, they cut your school tax rates. Your property tax bill is the product of the tax rate multiplied by the value of your property. If your home’s appraisal increased by more than the cut in tax rates, you’ll still pay higher property taxes. But that bill will be substantially less than what you’d pay without legislative action.
On the other part of your property tax bill – the money you pay cities, counties and special districts – there’s bad news. Lawmakers did pass Senate Bill 2, landmark legislation that, among other provisions, will give voters a greater say over their property tax bill and limit certain tax increases to no more than 3.5% before voters can weigh in. Unfortunately, SB 2 doesn’t take effect until next year.
This is the final year certain jurisdictions can raise their property taxes by 8% before voters can act, and many are doing just that. This will erase much of the benefits taxpayers will receive this year from lower school tax rates.
What does all this math mean for the average Austin homeowner?
According to the City of Austin, the median-valued home in the city in 2019 is worth $358,955 – up 8% from last year. The Austin Independent School District (AISD) will adopt its tax rate this month. Because of the new money from the state, AISD’s tax rate is expected to drop by seven cents per $100 of value — about 6%. That means the average AISD taxpayer will still see their school taxes increase, but by only $83 — a savings of $234 from what they would have paid without legislative action.
Austinites will have to dig even deeper into their wallets to cover the remainder of their property tax bill, though. The City of Austin’s draft budget increases property taxes by the full 8% – the fourth time in the last five years it’s been at or near the maximum. Travis County is also readying to adopt the maximum increase, versus the 6% and 5% increases of the previous two years. The Central Health District and Austin Community College are also looking to add more to your tax bill.
When all is totaled, the average Austin homeowner should see a property tax bill of $6,891 in 2019 compared to the $6,546 paid last year – a 5.3% increase. That’s more than many will expect given all the property tax relief talk coming from the Capitol, but still a few hundred dollars less that what homeowners would have owed otherwise.
Next year will be better. School tax rates will continue to drop, taking some of the sting out of rising values. In addition, the City of Austin and Travis County will have to get voter approval to raise property taxes by more than 3.5%. Overall, Austinites’ 2020 tax bills should be up about 3.4% – well below the expected rate of family income growth.
Property tax bills will continue to grow in the coming years, but by less than we’re used to. As incomes rise, property taxes should take a smaller and smaller bite out of your future paychecks.
Dale Craymer is president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (www.ttara.org), a non-profit, membership-supported organization of businesses and individuals interested in the state and local fiscal policies in Texas and the way those policies impact the economy.