AUSTIN – On April 11, Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that a final judgment from the 100th District Court of Carson County affirmed a summary judgment against White Deer Independent School District for violating Texas Senate Bill 1 by refusing to offer property owners tax relief granted by the Legislature in 2015.
“Local governments simply cannot selectively ignore state law,” Paxton said in a press release. “I am pleased that this court recognized that White Deer ISD violated the Texas Constitution when they took hard-earned money from homeowners without their vote or consent. My office remains committed to standing up for homeowners and taxpayers throughout the state.”
"It is, additionally, ordered that defendant White Deer Independent School District stop assessing and collecting property taxes through Dec. 31, 2019, that are subject to the local option homestead exemption that it adopted for the 2014 tax year. It is, additionally, ordered that defendant White Deer Independent School District disgorge and refund to plaintiff (Kelly Martin) those property taxes that it collected for tax years 2015, 2016 and 2017 from the plaintiff, if any, that are subject to the local option homestead exemption that it adopted for the 2014 tax year," the court's ruling, signed by Judge Stuart Messer, states.
Paxton said in the release that 20 school districts in Texas reduced or repealed their local option homestead exemptions in 2015: Dumas, Kilgore, White Deer, Bridge City, Broaddus, Christoval, Daingerfield-Lone Star, Excelsior, Groesbeck, Gruver, Hardin-Jefferson, High Island, Kountze, Lexington, Mount Pleasant, Riviera, Shepherd, Spurger, Veribest and Winfield.
In its judgment, the court cited Section 11.13(n-1) of the Texas Tax Code which "prohibits school districts from repealing or reducing the amount of a local option homestead exemption, at any time between Jan. 1, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2019, that was adopted for the 2014 tax year."
The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 1 in May 2015. Eighty-six percent of voters ratified the amendment in "one of the highest margins of victory for a recent amendment," the suit states.
The state budget paid for the tax breaks included in the legislation and the "law provided a property tax reduction to homesteaders in Texas with no decrease in funding for local school districts," the release states.
"Despite this, some school district chose to reduce or repeal their local option homestead exemption and assess a tax rate that clearly violated the law," according to Paxton's release.
The attorney general’s office intervened in a similar property tax lawsuit against Dumas ISD. That case is still pending, the press release states.