My take on yesterday’s 17-14 Senate vote to exclude rural communities on property tax reform

It was heartbreaking to hear. The evening of Monday, July 24, 2017, 17 out of 31 Texas Senators voted on an amendment filed by Senator Charles Perry (Lubbock), which excluded roughly 204 Texas counties from property tax reform, thereby permitting roughly 50 counties out of 254 the right to exercise a four percent (4%) cap on tax increases and an automatic election for funds sought above four percent.

Perry’s Amendment was to Senator Paul Bettencourt’s (Houston) Senate Bill 1 (SB1) – Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017 passed 19-12 in the Senate.

This vote against roughly 204 Texas counties was incorrigible!

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)

I am grateful to Senator Bryan Hughes (Mineola) for voting against this measure.

My Representative is Jay Dean (Longview). Before his freshman term, Jay was the Mayor of the City of Longview. For 10 years, while Mayor, Jay will tell you that he never raised taxes to even three percent. And, on particular projects that he and the City Council sought for Longview, those measures were sent to the taxpayers for a vote. We simply want the same thing!

My husband and I live in Upshur now. Upshur’s property appraisals are rising closer to Gregg County’s every year. Though Upshur is a larger county mass wise, our population is roughly 40,600 compared to 124,000 in Gregg (2015 numbers). Yes, we are rural, however, our County Judge and Sheriff both have someone to answer their phones. Imagine that!

There is no industry in Upshur except a Rob Roy plant that no longer has evening shifts. The largest employers in Upshur are the county and the school districts. Otherwise, many go to surrounding cities or counties for work.

We have a Walmart. The City of Gilmer sought to pull in a Super Walmart. However, after an internal study, the Walmart home office elected to not locate a Super Walmart in Gilmer because our current store is “not making enough money.” So, we have a little Walmart, like they had in Longview in early 2000, that is set up like a Super Walmart. However, as one can imagine there is a very selective choice of items. And you know what? I am ok with that. If the store does not have what I need, my husband, who works in Gregg, can pick it up on his way home. We live in the country. That’s just how it is.

Our County Sheriff, newly elected, is struggling to train his deputies, competitively pay them, outfit them with proper protective gear, and so forth, all on a shoe string budget. In reality, our whole county is doing the same thing. Our county employees, the top “dream job” of most, have not had a raise in a decade. Actually, our Commissioners cut their own pay and benefits by $11,000 each to make payroll to partially cover an $100,000 deficit.

Oh, and East Texas Medical Center moved out of the county about two years ago, thereby, leaving Upshur with no hospital.

As I understand it, the financial shape of Upshur is mainly due to severely poor management by inexperienced county officials over a decade ago. As one can imagine, we are grateful to have the folks currently in office.

Many Upshur residents have recently had to combat the county appraiser on excessively large tax increases. One couple had two acres of their 100 plus acre property raised because they repaired a portion of their barbed wire fence. This couple reports that this particular area is not utilized.

When my husband and I moved to Upshur, there was a water well and an unconnected electrical pole that had been through a fire in 2011, on the other end of our 11 acres. On the opposite end, we added a $5,000 pre-made barn, our paid off RV, a crushed iron ore driveway that cost us $4,500, fenced in a 100 x 100 ft. of cyclone fence for Gus, the bird dog, and our chicken coop, and an unconnected electrical pole and box. That raised our appraisal by $12,000. We purchased our 11 acres at less than $3,000 per acre.

As many on Facebook know, we are building our home ourselves.

When we moved to the area, there were less than a handful of homes. A ministry outfit purchased 13 acres down the road from us for almost $7,000 an acre. For what? There are no improvements, other than cutting down trees to put a used mobile home on each track, running electric to it, and room to park their vehicles.

There are two acres between our property and the 14-acre track next door. Those 2 acres are mostly creek. The owners, according to the appraisal district, live in Cass County.  It costs $10,000 for 2 acres of creek!

This area has one school for K through 12 (2 buildings).

In three years, acreage out here has risen to $5,000 an acre – all creek and $7,000 an acre with no creek.

I am told that Straus wants comprehensive property tax reform; but I have a sneaking suspicion that does not include a cap or an automatic election, a right to vote for us pesky peasants.

I gather the other 204 counties, unworthy in the eyes of 17 Texas Senators, only have our Representatives and the Freedom Caucus to protect us now.

UPDATE: The vote on Senator Perry’s Amendment, to exclude roughly 204 Texas counties from property tax reform was as follows:

Ayes: Bettencourt, Birdwell, Buckingham, Garcia, Huffman, Kolkhorst, Lucio, Menendez, Miles, Nelson, Nichols, Perry, Rodriguez, Schwertner, L. Taylor, Uresti, and Zaffirini.

Nays: Burton, Campbell, Creighton, Estes, Hall, Hancock, Hinojosa, Huffines, Hughes, Seliger, V. Taylor, Watson, West, and Whitmire.

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4 thoughts on “My take on yesterday’s 17-14 Senate vote to exclude rural communities on property tax reform

  1. Stacy, Thank You for your insight. You are so Right. Why does the Legislation give the right to work on property taxes to only 1/4 of the most populace counties and not the “rural”. I have three homes in Upshur County that are occupied by residents who pay rent. I am unable to charge what I need for taxes, insurance and mortgage because the taxes are so high. The taxes are high because of the school taxes and the two schools I am paying for have the worst records and ratings in the East Texas area. Why do I have to pay for this low quality of service? And why did Jay Dean not defend our rights in “Rural Texas”?

    • Tom, It’s always so great to hear from you, my friend. I could not agree more.

      I’ve been on the phone about this for the last two days. Yes, we were kicked in the teeth… left out to flap in the wind by Senator Perry, Bettencourt, Kolkshorst and others, but this measure will probably fall flat on its face in the House.

      Our Senator Bryan Hughes voted against Perry’s amendment, thereby standing strong with his mostly rural senate district.

      The House is too busy entertaining bills that are NOT on the Governor’s Call for the Special Session. When I ask why they are entertaining items not on the call, I am told they are “hoping” the Governor will add them to his call. A new call that they are waiting for. Umm He’s already given his call to action items.

      As to Jay, I’ve chatted with him several times about property tax reform. I have never received an answer on whether he supports a cap or an automatic election for funds over the cap (Bettencourt’s cap is at 4%). If you remember, Jay, as Mayor, did exactly what we are asking for statewide for Longview. Without giving me details other than to mention school taxes, Jay stands with the Speaker Joe Straus on doing a comprehensive tax plan.

      When I chatted with him the other day, he mentioned his support for Keough’s HB 44.

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