County Judge says property tax freeze unlikely, extension possible

During Monday’s conference call, we discussed a variety of issues which readers have asked about including local grants and the increase in property tax appraisals.  The County Judge Chris Schuchart stated that grants and property tax appraisal freezes were both very unlikely, but an extension on those taxes might be feasible.

In an awesome program helping some small businesses in the area, The City of Hondo’s economic development group has activated $300K in grant monies to be distributed to hometown businesses in Hondo.

We asked if Medina County would be considering a similar program, but they cannot do so at this time, Judge Schuhart stated. “We are building buildings right now–so unfortunately we do not have the money to do grants like that,” said Judge Schuchart.

He pointed out that the county has several major projects going on right now such as building a new two-story County Courthouse, jail addition, and the purchase and remodel of a new building as leaders move all county offices closer together in Hondo.

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For many years Medina County did not increase appraisals in the county, so in recent years residents have seen a steady increase in appraisals as the county aims to get back on track. However, during the pandemic when so many people are out of work and cannot operate businesses at full capacity, many residents have expressed concerns and asked the county to consider freezing property tax values instead of increasing them this year.

When asked if the county was considering a freeze in appraised value, Judge Schuchart stated, “The answer is probably not. Some people are complaining, but you have to remember that most of these appraisals were done on January 1, and on January 1st we weren’t in this situation with the coronavirus.”

“The County operates on those taxes, and the budget is based on that projected tax revenue. It is highly unlikely that we would do anything like that,” Judge Schuchart states.

He pointed out that the county has recently purchased a new building and is in the process of building a costly new annex and jail.

They also purchased a new building a couple weeks ago.

He gave an update on those projects.

New buildings being built

“The new county annex is being built as we speak. The pad is done and they are starting to frame it,” Judge Schuchart said.

“We have a meeting this Thursday to approve the GMAX (the maximum cost) of the jail addition and we expect to break ground on it in the next 2-3 weeks,” Judge Schuchart said.

The jail expansion is well-needed, as the county currently has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to house local prisoners in other counties who have space for them. It’s very costly, and the latest estimates we reported were costing $60 per prisoner, per day to be housed in other prisons.

“We also purchased a building across from the county courthouse within the past 2-3 weeks, and we will begin remodeling it. We will put the new District Attorney’s office, WIC, and the Health Unit in there.”

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“Those offices are currently located across town near the hospital.  The hospital has always wanted to buy one of those buildings. So when this one [beside the courthouse] came up for sale, it just made sense for us to buy and remodel this building. Now we will have all of our offices close together instead of some across town,” Schuchart adds. “It will cost us a little money, but in the end it’s not much. It will cost us a net of about $200-$300K…It’s a good move for us.”

Schuhart said the building was purchased for $700,000, and pointed out that the sale of the old district attorney’s office, WIC, and health unit buildings will help offset the cost some.

Would the County consider deferring the penalty for paying property taxes?

“That is certainly something we can discuss and consider,” Judge Schuchart said. “We did freeze all foreclosures until further notice.”

“We just can’t freeze property tax appraisals and roll back to 2019 appraisals,” Judge Schuchart stated. “Taxes are the county’s source of revenue. Our budget would be totally unbalanced if we did that….We would then have to make cuts.”