Few would argue that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is disastrous, but because it damages livelihoods rather than structures, property owners won’t get a break on taxes without a governor’s order.
An effort to convince Gov. Greg Abbott to provide Texans with that savings is being led by Wharton County community activist Sarah Hudgins.
Area State Senator Lois Kolkhorst’s office is now doing a legal review of the request while a petition asks for public support and State Rep. Phil Stephenson has made a direct plea to the governor’s office.
The goal is to “allow all taxpayers on all properties to have the option to pay their property taxes in installment without penalty and interest,” Hudgins said.
By Texas law, that’s allowed if, for example, an area is declared a disaster due to drought or flooding. However, there is no provision for pandemics. Until COVID-19 struck, lawmakers weren’t considering the effects of a hypothetical pandemic.
All of Texas has been declared a disaster area due to COVID-19.
“But here is the catch, the current code from the 2019 Property Tax Code states in order to qualify, the property had to be damaged as a direct result of the disaster,” Hudgins said. “Who would have thought that we would be faced with such an economical crises cause by a worldwide pandemic?”
Her request is a governor’s order covering all property and property owners affected by COVID-19.
“An Executive Order is the only way to have the amendment go into effect prior to the Jan. 31, 2021 deadline to pay your property taxes,” Hudgins said. “The financial impact of COVID-19 affects businesses as well as citizens who have rental property, second homes and homesteads. It is all a domino effect. This will be in the best interest of not only the taxpayers, but the taxing entities.”
A candidate for Wharton County tax-assessor’s office, Hudgins also awaits the results of a suspended runoff race against tax office official Cindy Hernandez. Hudgins also serves on the Wharton County Emergency Services No. 3 board, the taxing entity supporting EMS funding in East Wharton County.
The uncertainty of her position as a political candidate didn’t stop Hudgins from working on the project. Overall, she said, support has been good.
“Everyone has financially been affected by COVID-19. People have lost their jobs. Businesses have suffered,” Hudgins said. “Per the Texas Workforce Commission, as of Monday, May 3, 2020, 2.08 million unemployment claims have been filed.
“Sales tax is down. We have small business owners who depend on month-to-month business to stay afloat. If a business is not making money, they can not pay or afford employees. When people are laid off, they have no money to pay their rent, mortgage, food, utilities, etc.,” Hudgins said.
It affects all property owners, she said, homes, businesses, even landlords.
“Taxpayers with rental property are depending on the rent to pay for the property taxes, if their renters can’t pay because they are currently laid off, this causes a financial stress on the landlord,” Hudgins said.
“I will keep pushing my way through to get an Executive Order as action needs to be done to help our taxpayers,” Hudgins said.