Pandemic wallops property owners’ ability to pay taxes. And so far, there's no help in sight.


By SARA VANDEN BERGE


Property taxes are due. Today.


And the state says payments that arrive after the Feb. 1 deadline will be penalized seven percent.


But what do you do if you’re a business owner who lost a vast majority of revenue last year or a homeowner who has been out of work?


That’s the dilemma facing plenty of local property owners who can’t pay their taxes, and to make matters worse, they are facing a brick wall when asking for help.


“I can’t afford to my pay property taxes,” one local business owner told Beneath the Surface News. “I have been closed for most of the year and lost the majority of my income.


“I called (Erath County tax accessor) Jennifer Carey last week, and she was really nice and respectful, but all she could tell me is to pay what I can.”


But the money he has in reserves, he said, is needed to pay living expenses for his family.

I spoke with Carey and Lana Stevens, chief deputy of the tax accessor’s office, on Monday about the situation, and both confirmed that the state has not passed any measure that would give relief to property owners.


“There has been a waiver on motor vehicle (registrations) with no penalties until April 14, but so far the governor hasn’t done anything for property taxes,” Stevens said. “We sympathize with them, we are getting lots of calls about this, but our hands are tied.”


Carey said members of the tax accessor’s association saw this coming last year and began drafting legislation that would give help to property owners affected by the pandemic, but so far, nothing has happened.


“The governor has taken a stance that he can’t take action because of the tax code, so we need legislation to get it done,” Carey said. “The association has started drafting a relief bill to send to the legislative council, but the soonest they will know is March.”


And March, she said, isn’t soon enough.


“We needed some answers today,” Carey said. “We are still sitting here asking ourselves, “Now what?’”

Meanwhile, local property owners who can’t pay their taxes in full by the Feb. 1 deadline are being advised to pay what they can.


“We do accept partial payment, so the seven percent penalty will be applied to the lesser amount,” Stevens said. “If they can pay $100 per week or $200 a month, that helps. We won’t turn it over to the attorneys until July.”


Carey said she is not sure if property owners will ever get the help they need, but her office will continue to do everything they can to work with them.


“We had lip service down in Austin that said help sounds like a good idea, but I don’t know about that anymore,” Carey said. “This pandemic has been horrible.”