Discussion: What you need to know before you vote in Williamson County

Williamson County tax assessor collector Larry Gaddes joins Rudy Koski to talk about taxes and early voting. What should people know about them?

RUDY KOSKI: Here we are with Williamson County tax assessor collector Larry Gaddes. We're talking taxes and early voting. It's kind of strange that we're going to talk taxes in early voting. But Larry, we got two things on the ballot right now. And what are those things, and what should people know about them?

LARRY GADDES: Sure. So you're right. Early voting starts today, and propositions one and two has to do with property tax. So during the last legislative session for 2021, the legislature is going to make a constitutional amendment to fix something that they broke or didn't include in 2019 legislative session in Prop 1. And then they're going to try to bring some property relief to taxpayers in Prop 2. 

LARRY GADDES: So for Prop one, what they are doing is it's an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would require my office to go back and recalculate the freeze for school districts, for anybody that has an over 65 or a disabled persons exemption on their property. We recalculate the freeze to incorporate the compressed tax rate that the Legislature passed back in 2019. 

LARRY GADDES: And I'll try to put this in layman's terms here. I know that's a lot to digest there, but they lowered school tax rates in 2019. This was the Legislature's effort to better fund school districts with state money and take the burden off of the local property tax system to lower property people's property tax bills, so they forced school districts to lower their tax rate in twenty nineteen. What they didn't do is say, Hey, after we lower the tax rates, we need to readjust the freeze, the frozen taxes for folks that have the over 65 and disabled persons exemptions. So the following year, 2020 2021, the folks that did find relief in 2019, it didn't refreeze their taxes at that lower amount. So the tax bill crept back up the following years, and proposition one is an effort to kind of roll the clock back. Figure out what they would have paid in 2019 and recalculate that freeze again. This only applies to folks that have been over sixty-five exemptions or disabled persons exemptions on their homesteaded property. 

RUDY KOSKI: Should people get money back then if this passes? 

LARRY GADDES: Oh, I will tell you this. The language that they used is extremely complicated. I don't know why they went to such extremes to try to make it as complicated as possible. The way reread the code. It's simply going to reset the freeze so that I think in the 2023 tax year, folks with those exemptions are going to see an adjustment on their freeze, but they won't be getting any refunds.

RUDY KOSKI: Wow. That seems like another call to a state lawmaker will be coming. All right. Let's talk about the other one. 

LARRY GADDES: Proposition 2 again, an effort to bring property tax relief to taxpayers, specifically to homeowners that have a homestead on their property. So Proposition two is going to. It proposes to increase the homestead exemption for school districts on a homesteaded property from $25,000 TO $40,000. So it's a $15,000 increase on the exemption, specifically on your school district taxes for a homestead property. I do want to touch base on a couple of things here because there are some misnomers about what a homestead property homestead does for a property. Number one, everybody always asks, how much is that going to save me? 

LARRY GEDDES: So a $15,000 reduction in your taxable value, specifically just for the school district, is going to save people anywhere between one hundred and fifty to maybe one hundred and sixty dollars, maybe a little bit more. It really is going to depend on what the tax rate is for that school district that you live in. So again, a couple of things to point out this is not going to reduce your actual taxes. It reduces your taxable value for the value that's being taxed on your school district tax rate, so which you can typically do if you want to find out about how much this is going to save you, you're going to look at your school districts 2021 tax rate and multiply that times fifteen thousand and divide it by 100. 

LARRY GEDDES: So that's the simple math there that the current tax rate times fifteen thousand divided by 100. We'll tell you about what your savings will be. However, tax rates are going to change. They're not going to. They have not been adopted yet. So the actual savings is not yet apparent on how much people are going to save on their tax bill. 


RUDY KOSKI: Larry, another liberal arts guy, so I'm no challenged. Yes. For individuals who are like me and that may just mess up the calculations and they keep their office and say, help me and explain 

LARRY GADDES: Slowly, they can do that. We actually have a tax estimate here on our website. If you search your property on my website, you can go to a tax estimate and you can key in your exemptions. You would go to the Appraisal District website to see what your assessed value is for 2020. To put that into our website and then it calculate put in the correct exemptions for your property that you currently have and then hit calculate will show you what your tax bill going is going to be. There is. There is a slight problem with that. It is an estimate number one, and all the rates that we have in our system right now are 2021 tax rates. The 2022 tax rates have not yet been adopted and won't be adopted, those that won't happen until August or September. And because the values have increased so significantly for 2022 that taxing units are going to have to lower their tax rates. So the number that you get on our tax estimate is probably going to be quite a bit higher than what your actual tax bill is going to b come October. 

RUDY KOSKI: I must confess, let's touch on that with the valuations. A lot of folks are getting sticker shock and a lot of folks are very scared and we've got a lot of dynamics involved in a because the jump is so big local tax, these are going to have to recalculate and then we have the state caps that are in play. So what do you want people to know as they open up those ballots and they see that their valuation on their home has just gone through the roof? What do you want people to know?

LARRY GADDES: Would say no if your value has doubled on your homestead and a lot of people have seen that and a 50 percent increase, not double, but a 50 percent increase on their value this year, just know that that doesn't mean that your tax bill is going to increase by 50 percent. There's another component here that has not yet happened and that is adopting those tax rates and there is going to be some sticker shock. The taxing units are going to have to lower their tax rates and your tax bill is not going to go up that much. If you have a homestead on your property, your tax bill is not going to go up that much. But I'll touch base and maybe we can do this in another segment. There's three things that I encourage people to do to have an effect on their tax bill. Protest your value, especially if you have evidence to show that your value should be lower. PROTESTER value at the appraisal district and that kind of thing is going on right now. Your deadlines typically are going to be May 15th to file a protest with the appraisal district on your value, ensure that you have all the exemptions that you are entitled to on your property for three or homestead that is going to be a homestead exemption. Whether you qualify for an over 65 or disabled persons exemption, perhaps you qualify for disabled veterans exemption. I talked to a lot of people that just assumed that their homestead was on their property, and for several years they had not had it on there. They thought maybe they're closing that their title company filed that for them, or perhaps their real estate agent filed that for them. That is not the case. The actual homeowner has to file for a homestead exemption, so make sure you have your exemptions in place on your property. And you can do that by going to your appraisal district website and looking for your property and looking for the exemptions there on your property page. 

LARRY GADDES: And then in August and September, when the taxing units are adopting their tax rates, you've got to participate in that process. It's time consuming. It can be confusing. I've got some resources. Every county has some resources to help taxpayers voice their opinion about the tax rates that are being adopted. And again, I'd love to talk about that on a later segment. But there's protester value. Make sure you have your exemptions in place and then participate in the process of adopting the tax rates. There's public hearings that are held by every taxing unit that that taxes your property, and that's your opportunity to participate as a property owner in in that jurisdiction.

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RUDY KOSKI: Larry, over the last couple of years, there's been a new trend of people investing into rental property and commercial property. Those are not homesteads. Are you worried that this valuation spike that we've seen over the past couple of months in property values that those of individuals that are going to get hit hard and then the people who lease rent from those individuals are going to get hit hard?

LARRY GADDES: So that's  the thing I do worry about because what I mentioned earlier was that, you know, don't expect your tax bill to increase by 50 percent. If you're if your value is increased by 50 percent, you do have some protections in place with your home set of property. But if you own rent homes and for those that are that are renting homes right now. You're your landlord is probably going to have to pass on the increase in these property taxes to the renters, and they're the same protections that are provided to your homestead is not there for the rental properties. Unfortunately, there are no exemptions, there are no caps that cap the value. So a rental property owner and the renters that live in those homes are going to be dependent on the cats that are in place that will force the taxing units to lower their tax rates that it is high as the values have increased this year. The biggest benefit has been in the 10 percent cap in the valuations in the in assessed values for properties. The rental properties don't have that same protection. They are going to see a more significant increase than in their tax bill than the homesteaded properties are. So that is a concern. And I'll tell you, I have seen many, many posts on social media about folks saying that their rent has gone up specifically from. I've seen more so on apartment complexes, folks that are living in an apartment complex. So we're not just talking about rent houses here anywhere you're renting, whether it be a home or an apartment complex, they are all experiencing these significant increases in valuations and will see an increase in the tax bill in October. 

LARRY GADDES: The question at this point is how much is that going to be? And it sounds like the property owners that's rent house owners and apartment complex owner owners and duplexes, and everybody that owns those properties are already putting those rent increases in place in anticipation of a higher tax bill, but also making up for the increases that we saw in the previous year. 2021 also saw pretty significant increases in valuations. They were just not to this degree. So this is all causing a snowball effect that is coming to fruition right now that at least from what I've seen on social media.

RUDY KOSKI: There's this scenario play out also for commercial property and so small businesses, they can expect that. And then that means the customer could expect that.

LARRY GADDES: We have all seen the news stories about the various types of insulation that have been going on throughout the entire country, whether it be gas prices, food prices that you see at H-E-B, Rudy, you and I have talked about that increases in vehicle prices used car prices have increased. So this is one other component of something that you're paying as a as an individual. That's that's that that has to buy things and spend money to to to live. This is another component that is is increasing and is certainly part of the overall picture of inflation that we've been hearing about for the past year. And so to your question, yes, you can expect a businesses to have to pass this cost on to the consumers when you're buying the groceries, when you're eating at the restaurants. And, you know, I think that's that. But some things I've seen in the news is there have been businesses, long, storied businesses, especially in Austin that have decided that we can't afford the property taxes anymore and we can't certain certainly can't pass this on to our customers. We're going to have to close our business, and I think those stories have been floating through the news in the past couple of years as well. 

RUDY KOSKI: Is there something that these commercial property owners are thinking about or maybe missing some of maybe the new ones that may be missing that can give them some protection? Or what should they do which they you know, what's your advice 

LARRY GADDES: For a business owner or a commercial property owner? They're the exemptions that are available are far and few between. There are some Freeport exemptions and things like that that are available to very specific types of businesses. If if you have evidence to show that your value should be lower by all means, please protester value with the appraisal district and present that evidence to the appraisal district. And then you as a business owner. And I would look at this, especially the small business owners that. Where you live and work and on your business in that in the community that you live in. Participate in the tax rate adoption process with your local entities. That would be your school district, your city council, your county commissioner’s court. Whether you live in an ESD or a municipal utility district, every single one of those taxing jurisdictions on your property has a governing body that you have elected to represent you that will be passing a budget around the August timeframe. And then they'll be passing a tax rate. They'll be adopting a tax rate to fund that budget. Each one of those, those actions that those taxing those governing bodies are going to take will determine how much money they need and how and how much your tax bill is going to be in October. So please participate in that program and that process, that's a key component that many people do not participate in. And it's frustrating, from my perspective to see that that everybody focuses on the value because everybody has that opportunity to protest their value with the appraisal district. And then for the four or five or six, maybe sometimes even more for the number of taxing jurisdictions that tax your property. That the folks, property owners simply leave, that they don't participate in that process, and that's frustrating because that in my mind is the determining factor of what your tax bill is going to be. What is that tax rate going to be that's going to determine how much your tax bill?

RUDY KOSKI: And with that, let's wrap up this tax talk with your resource information points, phone number and website. A lot of information there. What's your view of sources? 

LARRY GADDES: I would say for you were to estimate your taxes go to tax that will code.org search for your property and there is a tax estimate or icon on our website that will make it extremely easy for you to determine to get an estimate about what your taxes are going to be for 2020. To again, the estimate that you're going to get is probably going to be lower when the actual tax bills come out, or the estimate now will be higher than the tax bills when they come out in October, because the caps are going to force taxing units to lower their tax rates. But you can still get an idea of what your tax bill is going to be by doing that. I do want to mention I've got a lot of Travis County viewers. The Travis County website also has an estimated that you can do that go through the same process, and that's on Roselle Font's website for the Travis County tax assessor collector. So if you live in Travis County, go to his website to get an estimate of taxes. And then in August, every property owner is going to get a postcard in the mail from our office that says, Go to this website and from Williamson County, it's https://www.wilco.org/PropertyTax

LARRY GADDES: It's going to tell you to go to a website and to visit that website to see what the proposed tax rates are going to be for taxing units. The comptroller will publish a list of every tax tech website for every county in the state and tell you which website to go to for your property. Depending on what county you live in, but every taxpayer in the state of Texas will have the ability to go to a website that will tell them what the proposed tax rates are. It will give them an opportunity to voice their opinion there online that will be shared with the governing bodies of those taxing units, and that the kicker is every county will have a different website. It's a different name for every county. So that's why the comptroller is going to print a list of each website for every county. Your every property owner is going to get a postcard in the mail that will tell you which website where that website is, so you can go do that. Again, that's an August. We got some time for that. But protest your value. Make sure you have all the exemptions on your property that you qualify for and then participate in the tax rate adoption website process in the August and September timeframe. 

RUDY KOSKI: Certainly a first step is the website, but if you have to call, what's the phone number? 

LARRY GADDES: It's 512-943-4361 is our phone number. Our lines are busy all the time. Our office also handles all the, everything you need to do with motor vehicles, so we do have a busy office. I will want to point out a lot of people call our office. They email our office asking questions about the value of their property. And unfortunately, we have to tell them that we don't. We don't do valuations for properties. We always have to send people to the appraisal district for that. And it hurts my heart because I know folks have been waiting on hold for 10, 15, 20 minutes, waiting to talk to our staff to ask their questions. But let me just please ask the viewers if it has anything to do with the value of your property or if you filed for an exemption and you're wondering if that's been approved. Yet all of that stuff happens at the appraisal district, so please reach out and contact your appraisal district for the county that you live in to ask questions about values and whether your exemptions on your property or whether it's been approved or not, that that is a different office than  the tax office levels. 

RUDY KOSKI: And that is probably going to be another topic that we're going to talk about in the coming week. Larry Gaddes with the Williamson County Tax Assessor/Tax Collector Office. Thanks a lot for this taxing talk, and we will be back later on to talk more. Thanks.