Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tax-exempt prison property squeezing Huntsville ISD

There's an interesting article in the Huntsville Item ("HISD looks at ways to reduce expenses," April 2) with a reference to the impact of TDCJ's ownership of vast swaths of property in Walker County on the local school district's tax base:
Because a large portion of land in Walker County is owned by the state through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or Sam Houston State University, Huntsville schools have a hard time raising tax dollars from the community because of the low amount of property tax available.

“In districts adjacent to federal facilities, like Fort Hood, they can get federal impact aid,” Johnson said. “They recognize that their ability to raise tax dollars locally is limited because a lot of the land is tax exempt. I'm going to suggest that the state consider state impact aid for Huntsville because of the state-owned facilities in this district.”

Johnson said the ability of Huntsville to raise money is limited compared with areas where the land is not tax exempt.

“That's just the situation here,” he said. “What we do know is there's nothing on the horizon saying there's a lot of new money being sent out to schools.”
Grits seriously doubts the state will replicate "federal impact aid" to subsidize local property taxes anytime soon, but what it could, and should do is change narrowly targeted policies to reduce incarceration levels, close more prison units and sell off land near existing developments, shifting more real property back onto the tax rolls.

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