For the second year in a row, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins will seek to cut the county property tax rate to help working families.

Property values across the county rose by 11 percent this year, but after owners protest their assessments, officials expect the final tally to mark a 7.2 percent rise over last year. That stands in contrast to a 2.7 percent increase in the average worker’s wages, Jenkins said this week.

“For homeowners, values going up is a mixed blessing. But if you’re a renter, it’s all bad news,” Jenkins said Wednesday at the Irving Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the County luncheon at the Hilton Anatole.

Higher property taxes drive rent increases, which Jenkins said affects lots of working families. Half of the county’s residents are renters. In Dallas, 3 out of 5 people rent.

“We could literally, if we’re not careful, price people out of being able to live near their jobs,” Jenkins said. “That’s very bad for us in the medium term.”

Jenkins said he will press the Commissioners Court to adopt the effective tax rate, meaning the rate at which the county would receive the same total property tax revenue, not counting taxes on new construction.

County budget director Ryan Brown estimated the effective rate would be 23.2 cents per $100 valuation. That’s slightly lower than the current tax rate of 24.31 cents per $100 valuation. For instance, a homeowner with a $250,000 house would pay $580 instead of $607.75. However, homeowners could still see a rise in their property tax bill if their value increases.

Meanwhile, the county would still receive $13.5 million in new revenue due to new construction.

Jenkins said he was confident that his colleagues on the Commissioners Court and the county’s city councils would work to lower their tax rates to help property owners.

But that didn’t appear to be happening Wednesday. County Commissioner John Wiley Price said Jenkins was engaging in “political posturing” the year before he runs for re-election. Price said the county needs the tax money to keep bringing staff salaries in line with other employers in the region, as well as update its equipment and buildings.

“Most of us understand the difference between politics and governance,” Price said. “He’s playing politics. This is about governance.”

Of Jenkins’ concern for working families, Price said: “That argument’s kind of old. We went through that last year. Same argument.”

County Commissioner Elba Garcia said it was too early for her to announce her stance, without knowing the final property value figures or whether the state Legislature will change property tax laws in a special session.

“At this point it’s premature to discuss this issue without knowing the final numbers,” Garcia said.

Jenkins said he will not seek a reduction in the property tax rate for Parkland Memorial Hospital. He said the rising number of uninsured patients in Dallas County is what worries him most, and the prospect of the uninsured rate rising more under President Donald Trump’s health care plan.

“Health care keeps me up at night,” Jenkins said. “In the most uninsured large county in America, what happens with Trumpcare?”

Last year, Jenkins, Price and Commissioner Mike Cantrell voted to lower Parkland’s tax rate. Cantrell is the commission’s sole Republican member.

Parkland CEO Dr. Fred Cerise said he was happy to hear that Jenkins won’t seek a tax rate cut for the hospital, as he expects financial struggles over the next year amid the uncertain federal health care landscape. State and federal payments are shrinking, so the hospital is even more dependent on the county’s share of its budget, he said. Meanwhile, the prices for drugs and equipment are rising fast.

“Health care inflation is a real thing,” Cerise said. “Somewhere, you have to have inflationary [revenue] increases. We know that at the federal and state level, that’s not happening.”

Presented by the Dallas Morning News 

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