Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Bexar County Commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to approve a $10,000 local property tax exemption for homeowners aged 65 and older, aiming to lessen the impacts of rising tax bills.
The Bexar County hospital district, which operates as University Health System (UHS) and is one of several County entities authorized to collect property taxes, recommended and approved the exemption during its bimonthly meeting May 22. The UHS board's approved recommendation required final approval from the Commissioners Court.
Commissioners supporting the motion said the exemption represented a good "first start" towards providing meaningful relief from rising tax bills, but that in the future they should look at increasing the exemption, or freezing the hospital tax altogether.
The exemption will allow homeowners to deduct $10,000 from the taxable value of their properties, beginning with 2018 valuations. UHS officials recorded 124,371 senior property owners in 2017 who would be eligible for the exemption. The current tax rate through the hospital district is 27.635 cents per $100 valuation, and officials estimated that annual property tax collections would decrease by $3.4 million as a result of the exemption.
University Health System officials said they had not previously offered any exemptions for seniors since they often use more health care services than other taxpayers, but that increases in property valuations in recent years warranted some action.
Commissioner Chico Rodriguez (Pct. 1) cast the lone vote against the recommendation, saying the exemption provided no real benefit.
"This $10,000 doesn't do anything for people right now," Rodriguez said. "I don't see the value."
George Hernández, president and chief executive officer of UHS, told Commissioners on Tuesday that the hospital district would possibly return with more exemption recommendations once officials assess how the next session of the Texas Legislature is likely to approach property taxes.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff sent a letter to UHS Board's Chairman James Adams on May 25 supporting the recommendation as "a good start," adding that, "I hope you will consider a property tax freeze for seniors in the future."
Wolff said that since Commissioners froze Bexar County property tax rates for seniors in 2005, eligible property owners have saved $186.4 million.
Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) was not present for the vote.
Also on Tuesday, Commissioners voted unanimously to begin negotiating a tax abatement package for a new H-E-B distribution center to be developed on the county's East Side.
Bexar County staff recommended a 10-year tax abatement plan for the project that's set to create 300 new full-time jobs. The San Antonio City Council approved providing development waivers for the project in May.