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Petition asking for senior tax freeze on ballot gets nearly 8,800 signatures

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Local activists delivered a petition with nearly 8,800 signatures to the Denton city secretary Wednesday morning, asking for a property tax freeze for people with disabilities or those older than 65.

If the petition is deemed valid, the matter would become a proposition on the May ballot for city of Denton voters.

The petition included the full language of the city ordinance that would become Denton’s tax freeze. With a freeze, homeowners who are disabled or older than 65 pay the same dollar amount in property taxes each year, even if their home’s appraisal value increases or if the city tax rate is increased.

The group started collecting signatures in mid-September after the City Council declined to adopt the freeze at their request, according to Don Duff, a resident and real estate agent from the Robson Ranch retirement community.

Duff wondered whether some council members believed they couldn’t get enough signatures. State law allows voters to petition a taxing entity for a property tax freeze, similar to state law that allows voters to petition for alcohol sales in their locality.

The activists need about 5 percent of Denton’s 77,226 registered voters on the petition to force the measure.

“Our goal was to get 5,000 signatures,” he said.

State law gave them six months to do the job, but they were successful in about six weeks, Duff said. The group had gathered about half of their goal before early voting. During early voting, they sent a representative to both of the city’s early voting locations and that helped them surge past their goal.

City staff told council members earlier this year it was difficult to calculate the impact of a property tax freeze on the city budget because its effect is cumulative. However, the first year of a city property tax freeze likely would cost about $900,000, or the equivalent of about 1 cent of the city’s property tax rate, staff said.

Denton raised the property tax exemption for homeowners with disabilities this year to match the current $50,000 property tax exemption for homeowners age 65 or older. The exemption primarily benefits low-income homeowners.

For example, a person who owns a $100,000 home would pay $683.34 in city property taxes this year. But a homeowner with a senior or disabled exemption would pay only $307.50 because the first $50,000 in value is not taxed.

If voters approve the property tax freeze — a measure that would be over and above the current exemption — that homeowner would not pay more than $307.50 in city taxes annually, even if the value of the home increased.

School taxes are already capped for seniors and the disabled under state law, with state funds making up the difference for school budgets.

But no such relief is offered to cities or other governmental entities that can be forced to freeze taxes under state law. That has made the local proposal controversial among some city taxpayers.

The prospect of increased property taxes for other homeowners could affect local housing costs, particularly for younger families and the rental market, critics say.

But Duff and other activists are confident a tax freeze proposition will pass in May. So far, the group has no plans to form a specific-purpose committee to campaign for the measure.

“I don’t see this as difficult to get the vote out,” Duff said.

City Secretary Jennifer Walters has until Dec. 20 to evaluate the petition and make sure it contains at least 3,862 valid signatures. Then, she submits her certification to the City Council, likely during a meeting scheduled for the matter on Jan. 3.

If the petition is certified, the city could schedule a public hearing on the proposed property tax freeze for Jan. 10.

The election is May 7.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.