Copperas Cove, one of few area cities to offer Homestead exemption
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove city council will be discussing and providing direction on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-2022 during a workshop meeting this evening.
The council was presented with the full proposed budget during its June 1 meeting and had been presented with numbers from the General Fund, including the fund’s $1.05 million anticipated deficit, during a May 18 workshop meeting.
During the May 18 meeting, city administration presented the council with a list of several possible options for balancing the budget, including the removal of the local homestead exemption and subsequent reduction of the city’s property tax rate.
Other options include a transportation user fee, reallocating sales tax revenue from the Economic Development Corporation, reducing grounds maintenance and custodial services as well as eliminating positions within the Police Department and reducing staffing positions in the Fire Department, Library and Animal Control.
If council recommends removing the homestead exemption, it would also mean the city would have to lower its property tax rate from 78.65 cents per $100 valuation to 76.85 per $100, which would be a reduction of 1.8 cents.
The option to remove the homestead exemption was also brought up during last year’s budget discussions when the council, but no action was taken to move forward with that option.
The removal of the local homestead exemption would bring in $263,343 in revenue for the city, but the subsequent property tax rate reduction would remove $236,980.
Several property tax exemptions allowed by the state are mandatory like the General Residence Homestead for School Districts, Age 65 or Older or Disable for School Districts, Disabled Veterans, Surviving Spouses, 100 Percent Disabled Veterans, etc.
For local taxing entities that aren’t school districts, there is also the option to offer a Residential Homestead Exemption for an amount up to 20 percent of the property’s value, but not less than $5,000.
This is not a state-mandated exemption and is at the discretion of those city, county and special district entities.
City staff mentioned during the May 18 workshop that Copperas Cove is one of the few cities in the area that offer a local homestead exemption. Copperas Cove also has one of the highest property tax rates compared to other cities in the Central Texas area.
The only area cities that offer a local homestead exemption are Salado and Temple, also the only cities in Bell County that offer a local homestead exemption of $5,000 or 20 percent.
South of Copperas Cove, Austin has the local homestead exemption option as well, for $5,000, as does Cedar Park and Marble Falls. North on I-35, Waco also offers a homestead option of 10 percent.
Budget Director Ariana Beckman said that city staff contacted the Bell Central Appraisal District, Lampasas Central Appraisal District and Coryell Central Appraisal District to inquire about the homestead exemption, where they discovered that Copperas Cove was one of the only cities currently offering the exemption.
City Manager Ryan Haverlah explained that the local homestead exemption established by the city or a municipality is different than the state mandated exemption for school districts, which cannot be changed by any organization except for the state legislature.
This means that the city council can in fact remove the exemption if they so desire.
Councilmember Joann Courtland said there has been misconception or confusion about the exemption removal option presented, with some citizens thinking that the city could remove the entire exemption. She wanted to stress that this would just be for the city’s local exemption.
“I think it should be something that is discussed and researched to see if it is viable solution to help with our shortfall,” Courtland said about the removal of the city’s local exemption. “The other side of this coin of removing the exemption is the city could lower our tax rate which would also be a good thing for all the homeowners within the city.”
Councilmember Vonya Hart said that she has been looking into different options presented to council members.
“I’ve been thinking about my role as a councilperson, what I represent and what I’m supposed to be here for the community. What we’re supposed to make sure that we have intact for our citizens- public safety, streets, etc,” Hart said.
Hart said she had asked for the number of property owners in Copperas Cove currently receiving the local homestead exemption. She said she was told there are approximately 6,000 homeowners currently receiving the local exemption, out of a total of more than 14,000 properties.
“I don’t feel comfortable taking away from people what they have,” Hart said. “I don’t like it. If you’re receiving something and then you have to take it away-and I totally don’t believe in taxing the people more. I’m not in favor of that, and I will never be in favor of that.”
Hart added that she would always exhaust other areas before approaching raising the tax rate.
Hart explained that while she hadn’t decided one way or the other which way she was leaning on the removal, the decision would be hard.
“It’s going to come down to something is going to be taken away from somebody, and where is that going to come from?” Hart said. “Department, entity, the people- where is it going to come from? That’s how I’m thinking in trying to make the most fair decision.”
Hart said she welcomed feedback and communication from the residents of Copperas Cove and invited them to email her to share their own concerns. All emails for councilmembers can be found on the city’s website: https://www.copperascovetx.gov/city_council/.
The workshop meeting will begin at 5 p.m. and will be held in the Council Chambers at the Technology Building at 508 S. 2nd St. The public can also watch the meeting via the city’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIHkZ_Fwq-Y0iRkNU1-fM8w.
Central Texas Property Tax Rates*
**Temple 65.25 cents
Troy 54.3 cents
Belton 63 cents
Harker Heights 67.7 cents
Killeen 73.3 cents
**Salado 53.39 cents
Nolanville 53.03 cents
**Copperas Cove 78.65 cents
Gatesville 56 cents
Kempner 24.49 cents
Lampasas 39.52 cents
Evant 57.63 cents
**Austin 53.35 cents
**Cedar Park 44.69 cents
Georgetown 41.80 cents
Round Rock 43.9 cents
Burnet 61.81 cents
**Marble Falls 61 cents
**Waco 77.6232 cents
*Per $100 valuation
**Offers Homestead Exemption