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Proponents of Travis County transportation and parks bond proposals on the November 2017 ballot made an enticing pitch to older homeowners in a mailer, telling them that their taxes are frozen and they won’t pay more if the bonds pass.
Readers asked us to check if the propositions won’t raise their taxes and also whether property taxes are frozen for homeowners 65 or older. We put the mailer’s claim to the Texas Truth-O-Meter.
The "freeze" claim is inaccurate, Travis County officials quickly said to our inquiries, and it’s inaccurate to say the propositions won’t cost taxpayers anything extra.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who voted with colleagues to place the two bond propositions on the ballot before helping to kick off the privately funded Travis Forward campaign, speculated that consultants behind the mailer assumed the county, like the Austin school district, provides tax freezes to homesteading homeowners 65 or older.
"No doubt, this is inaccurate," Eckhardt said by phone. "To the extent I am responsible, I fall on my sword."
By phone to our inquiry, Marya Crigler, chief appraiser of the Travis Central Appraisal District, noted that by state law, every Texas school district must set a ceiling on how much homeowners 65 or older pay. Counties and other governmental jurisdictions have the local option of setting such ceilings, Crigler advised. See TCAD’s breakdown of exemptions and tax ceilings offered by Travis County jurisdictions here.
Eckhardt helped us reach Mykle Tomlinson, Travis Forward’s campaign manager, who said by phone the errors occurred in mailers targeting older residents because consultants whom he did not identify misunderstood the difference between a homestead tax exemption and a tax freeze.
After our inquiry, Tomlinson said the group would follow up by sending postcards within a day or so to the 12,295 households that received the mailer, which went out about the day the early-voting period began Oct. 23, 2017.
At our request, Tomlinson emailed us a copy of the follow-up postcard which says on its front: "We were wrong and we’re sorry!"
The back of the postcard is headlined: "Setting the record straight." Next comes text saying: "The mailer we sent to your home last week wrongly claimed that, like school district taxes, senior homeowners’ county taxes are frozen under state law."
The back also says: "State law does not require a county tax freeze for seniors. The mailer we sent to your home last week was inaccurate, and we’re sorry. Please help us set the record straight by sharing this with your friends and neighbors."
Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s tax assessor-collector, told us by phone that if the county propositions win approval, older homeowners will pay more in county taxes.
According to the county, the owner of a home at the 2017 average taxable property value of $305,000 can expect to pay no more than $24 a year for 20 years should voters approve Proposition A, to spend $93.4 million on road, sidewalk, bike and other transportation-related projects, and Proposition B, devoting nearly $91.5 million to parks and land conservation projects.
A county web page enables anyone to input any taxable property value--for homeowners, meaning the value, less exemptions including the county’s 20 percent homestead exemption--and see what the county estimates as the proposed bonds’ future annual costs to the property owner.
Although the county has no tax freeze for older residents, it does give them an additional homestead exemption up to $80,000 on the assessed value of their home. That is, county taxes accrue on the property’s taxable assessed value above $80,000 for those 65 and older.
Travis Forward said in a mailer: "The Travis County propositions will not raise your taxes! If you are 65 or older, your property taxes are frozen."
Neither claim holds up, we found, in that the propositions pose future tax costs for property owners with specific projected amounts driven by the assessed value of properties and the county doesn’t freeze taxes for homeowners 65 or older. Rather, such a resident qualifies to exempt $80,000 of the taxable assessed value of their home from county taxes.
We rate this two-part to-be-retracted claim False.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Mailer from Travis Forward (received by email by PolitiFact Texas from readers, Oct. 24, 2017)
News story, "Travis County commissioners authorize November bond election," Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 15, 2017
Phone interviews, Sarah Eckhardt, judge, Travis County, Oct. 24, 2017
Phone interview, Bruce Elfant, tax assessor-collector, Travis County, Oct. 24, 2017
Phone interviews and email, Mykle Tomlinson, manager, Travis Forward PAC, Oct. 24, 2017
Document showing postcard described by Mykle Thompson as follow-up mailing to Travis County households (received by email from Thompson Oct. 25, 2017)
Document, "2017 Travis County Bond Election (DRAFT as of 08/15/17 4:00pm by CCM) Propositions A & B Project List," Travis County, Aug. 15, 2017 (accessed Oct. 24, 2017)
Web page, "Estimated 2017 Travis County Bond Tax Impact," Travis County, undated (accessed Oct. 24, 2017)
Phone interview, Marya Crigler, chief appraiser, Travis Central Appraisal District, Oct. 25, 2017
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