No break for some Ike victims?

October 28, 2008 3:53:39 PM PDT
Homeowners in Galveston County are getting a surprise when they open their property tax bills. The bills have not been adjusted to reflect storm damage. Property taxes were determined January 1 and that's what homeowners have to pay, even if the home is severely damaged and taxpayers are not happy about it.

Shelly Parsons' home is nothing like what it was the day before Hurricane Ike hit. Even though the place is unlivable right now, Parsons' tax bill is the same.

"The tax appraisal? Why would you not come in here and reappraise?" she wondered. "There is a lot of damage here and the property is not worth what it was before Hurricane Ike actually hit."

Parsons' home value has not been reduced by a single penny and will not be unless local government bodies decide to reassess properties damaged by the storm. So far, none of the taxing authorities in Galveston County have indicated they will reassess.

"There are a lot of people here who can't get to the town meeting, that they don't actually tell you when there's going to be a town meeting, so you can discuss your problems or discuss what you think should be done," said Parsons.

Texas law allows taxing districts like schools, cities and counties to reassess values after a storm. If reassessments are asked for, someone who had 40 percent damage might well see their tax bill go down by $400 or $500. Someone who lost everything might see a reduction of $1,000.

"People are saying, 'My house is gone and I have to pay this whole bill,' and they do unless there is a reappraisal," said Galveston County Tax Assessor Cheryl E. Johnson.

Johnson's office is getting a lot of calls now because taxpayers are only now seeing the bills. Taxpayers can make four installment payments. The first is due in February. If values are not reassessed, some homeowners say they will get their own tax break in their own way.

"Some folks right now are saying if they are not going to do reappraisal, then I am not going to repair my house until after January 1 because I need the whole year worth of savings," said Johnson.

So far, only Dickinson ISD has said it will not ask for a re-evaluation. Galveston ISD meets Wednesday night to discuss the idea. Citizens are encouraged to let their voices be heard.

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