Commissioners approve new homestead exemptions for Tarrant County homeowners
Tarrant County homeowners will get further tax relief this year amidskyrocketing appraisals, after county commissioners approved the creation of two new homestead exemptions.
Homestead exemptions are measures that ‘exempt’ a certain amount of a property’s value from taxation. Under the Texas tax code, taxing units like the county are allowed to adopt an optional homestead exemption of up to 20% of a property’s appraised value. These optional homestead exemptions are in addition to others required by tax code, including school district exemptions.
The first optional homestead exemption commissioners approved excludes 10% of a home’s appraised value from taxation by the county. That means residents will see an average decrease of about $34 in the property taxes they owe to the county.
“Right now it looks small, but I’ll tell you every dime helps,” County Judge Tim O’Hare said.
The exemption was unanimously approved by commissioners, and multiple residents from across Fort Worth, Arlington and Euless spoke in favor of it.
“Homeowners need, demand and expect a homeowners tax exemption,” Arlington resident Steve Eckland said.
The exemption will cost the county between $28 and $30 million in revenue, county administrator G.K. Maenius told commissioners. The county has not yet earmarked specific programs to be cut from the budget.
Ramirez told those in attendance that while he’s proud of the exemption, efforts to provide tax relief can’t stop at the county level. He said there needs to be more work done by the legislature, cities and school districts to also lessen the burden on residents. Last month, Fort Worth signaled a willingness to increase its senior tax exemption.
“It’s not the end of the work,” Ramirez said. “We have to reach out to other entities and make sure they’re doing their part.”
The second proposed homestead exemption proved more controversial than the first.
Commissioners approved another 10% homestead exemption, but this time for the Tarrant County Hospital District, by a 3-2 vote, to further reduce residents’ property tax burden. O’Hare and commissioners Manny Ramirez and Gary Fickes voted yes on the measure, while commissioners Roy Brooks and Alisa Simmons voted no.
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The Tarrant County Hospital District, known as JPS Health Network, was first created in 1959 in order to provide consistent funding for the city-county hospital. The network receives about 40 percent of its funding from Tarrant County taxpayers, according to a Q&A from the network. No JPS Health Network employees were in attendance at the Commissioners Court meeting.
A look at JPS Health Network’s budgets over the past several fiscal years shows that it is continuing to bring in more revenue than it is spending, and that revenue brought in from patient services continues to increase, O’Hare said.
“They have presented budgets that have included tens of millions of dollars annually in revenue in excess of their expenses,” he said. “Their year over year increases… have been driven by increases in property tax revenues, by and large.”
For Ramirez, JPS Health Network should be praised for finding more ways to bring in non-tax revenue.
“When it comes to raising that revenue, we have to remember the purpose,” he said. “The purpose for that is to lower the tax revenue side of it. It’s supposed to balance out.”
Commissioners Brooks and Simmons cautioned that taking away revenue from JPS Health Network now could endanger the progress of a $800 million bond package approved in 2018. The bond program is already over budget by several hundred million, according to previous reporting.
“We are in the middle of an expansion… both in facilities and outreach to underserved populations,” Brooks said.
If the hospital network doesn’t have enough revenue to pay for its debt, he said, it could see its bond ratings plummet. That, in turn, would make future bonds more expensive for the county.
“In a county that is growing as rapidly as Tarrant County is growing, it is difficult to keep up with the ability to provide increased levels of service to increased populations without increased dollars,” Brooks said.
Optional homestead exemptions must be approved before July 1 in order to apply to the year’s property tax bills. As the exemptions were approved by the commissioners June 6, both will be in effect for this year’s payments.
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