Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners wants to see older and disabled residents of Houston get a raise on their homestead exemption.
This week, Sumners sent a strong message to city leaders, saying “there is no excuse for not helping the city’s elderly and disabled now.”
Sumners noted the last time the City of Houston raised its over-65/disabled exemptions was 2008.
Including 2008, the exemptions were raised by $36,856 from $34,006 to $70,862 over eight years starting under Mayor Bill White.
With the ongoing weak economy and rising inflation rates, Sumners said there was “absolutely no excuse” for not raising the exemption again.
“The City of Houston’s 2012 revenues are projected to rise and it’s time to help Houston’s seniors and disabled,” Sumners said. “No one can argue that it is not to the city’s benefit to help the elderly and disabled stay in their homes. The reasons are undisputed, and the elderly and disabled need help now.”
He also said raising the exemptions to $80,000 would save elderly and disabled residents about $56 a year in property taxes.
“It’s not that much, but it will give needed relief to these taxpayers, often on fixed incomes,” Sumners said. “At least it will offset the cost of the drainage fee averaging close to $5 per month.”
Future increases in the exemptions could provide relief for the substantial increases in water rates, he added.
Using 2011 figures, Sumners estimates raising the exemptions to $80,000 will benefit 62,650 seniors and disabled. He estimates the property tax revenue loss to the city at $3.5 million a year.
Sumners also warned against getting bogged down on finding a revenue replacement for the cost of the increased exemptions.
“With the city seemingly always able to find the money for pet projects, I call on the city to pass these increased exemptions now,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the city’s help than its seniors and disabled. They need the help now and the money is there.”
If they take Sumners’ advice, the Houston City Council will need to act fast. Under the Texas law, any increase in the exemptions for 2012 must be approved no later than June 30.