At a time of real economic stress and uncertainty, the City Council of Pflugerville, Texas, a community of roughly 65,000 just north of Austin, was proposing to approve a property tax rate representing a 7% increase in revenue. That was well above the prescribed state guideline of 3.5% for a maximum increase. Although the Council was legally permitted to do so without voter approval as an emergency measure, the Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) recognized that homeowners should not have to shoulder the additional tax burden during this difficult time. With a timely call for action (CFA) through the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program, the REALTORS® convinced Pflugerville’s elected officials not to take such drastic action.
Jeni Williams, ABoR’s Deputy Director of Government Affairs, explains that in its most recent session, the Texas Legislature mandated property revenue increase guidelines of no more than 3.5% without voter approval, with an exemption for increases of up to 8% in cases of declared disasters. “When disaster declarations were made due to COVID-19, there was a lot of talk about whether cities would really ever want to take advantage of that provision,” notes Williams. In mid-July, Pflugerville did.
Within a week, ABoR’s leadership decided to launch a CFA to discourage the rate hike. Taylor Smith, ABOR’s Senior Policy Advisor, reports that NAR’s Advocacy Everywhere team put the campaign together in about 24 hours; the appeal to “Take Action to Help Keep Property Taxes Low” targeted ABoR members who live in Pflugerville. It also went out to consumers who had registered to receive information on housing policy through the REALTOR® Party’s Home Ownership Matters website, and they, too, responded to the call. In just a single day, messages sent to the Mayor and City Council Members were heard loud and clear. Says Williams, “Pflugerville is a much smaller community than Austin, and the City Council isn’t used to hearing from people in large numbers, so Council Members were astonished to have been contacted by about 80 concerned citizens: all those voices all made a difference.”
The CFA was planned to run from August 10-25, but, at the August 11 City Council meeting, those astonished Council members voted to approve a maximum tax rate that the REALTORS® had respectfully requested. Given the somewhat unexpected turn of events, says Smith, the CFA was suspended early, having fully achieved its mission. “It was a win for homeowners,” he says, noting that ABoR will also be promoting a property tax education campaign launched recently by the Texas REALTORS® called KnowYourTaxes.org, which explains the changes in state law that increased transparency and lowered the increase that could be implemented without voter approval.
“I really don’t know why other local REALTOR® associations don’t use the Advocacy Everywhere program all the time!” says Williams. “The CFAs are a great tool, and in our experience, they always get results.” She adds that while ABoR has not historically been engaged in Pflugerville policy issues, the relationships they are beginning to build with the community’s elected officials will strengthen their advocacy there in the future.
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Austin, Texas are looking out for property owners, contact Taylor Smith, Senior Policy Advisor, at 214-801-0518; or Jeni Williams, Deputy Director of Government Affairs, at 281-610-5804.