Tax freeze amendment now up to voters

Proposition 13 to appear on November 2 ballot

By Richard Zowie

Times Guardian Staff Writer

Besides voting between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry in the 2004 general election, Comal County voters will now get to vote on the Proposition 13 tax freeze measure on the November 2 ballot.

The measure will read: "The constitutional amendment to permit counties, cities and towns, and junior college districts to establish an ad valorem tax freeze on residence homesteads of the disabled and of the elderly and of their spouses."

Proposition 13, approved last year by 91 percent of Texas voters, allows counties, cities or special districts in the state to limit taxes for homeowners who are either disabled or are age 65 and older. Under the proposition, for school tax purposes a qualifying homeowner is allowed a $10,000 exemption along with the mandated $15,000 exemption for all residential homesteads under the Texas constitution. Taxing authorities can also allow further exemptions of at least $3,000 to elderly or disabled homeowners. The property taxes, under the proposal, couldn't increase as long as the residences are maintained as homesteads by the owners or their spouses.

New Braunfels resident Sigfrid Swenson, along with Charlie Burns of Canyon Lake and D.J. Lindsey of New Braunfels, submitted the 3,160-signature petition to the Comal County Commissioners' Court July 14 to get the measure on the ballot.

The petition, initially consisting of 3,533 signatures but whittled down by 373 due to various disqualifying factors, represented about six percent of the approximately 52,428 registered voters in Comal County. To get a measure like this on the ballot, the signatures on the petition must represent at least five percent of the county's registered voters.

Swenson said it took about 3-4 weeks to collect the signatures. Most of the people he contacted signed, although, ironically, two senior citizens declined to sign, stating they were against the measure. They collected many of their signatures from the grocery stores in the Canyon Lake area.

"We had one young man who wanted to sign the petition, but we couldn't let him once we learned he lived in Pleasanton," Swenson said. "I encouraged him to write a letter to the editor down there at the newspaper."

While Comal County Judge Danny Scheel commended the petition supporters for acquiring the necessary signatures, he reaffirmed his reasons for why the commissioners' court declined to vote on the tax freeze and his thoughts on the issue freeze.

"At the commissioners' court, none of us are really promoting [the tax freeze] one way or another," the judge said. "Our total concern was that all the people of Comal County have a say in whether or not this passes.

"It's no secret that whatever savings the people over 65 obtain will have to be passed down to other tax-paying individuals, and I want them to have a say in whether or not they want to pick up what the other people are not paying. If they do, I'm fine with that. If they don't, I'm fine with that also."

Judge Scheel added, "I personally will tell you that I do not support Prop 13 because I do not feel that I can pass my responsibilities down to younger generations. I feel that as long as I obtain services from the county or the city, then it is my responsibility to pay for those services and whatever steps I may have to take to be able to pay for those services."

Swenson, who said he's confident the measure will pass in November, dismissed criticism that the tax freeze would place an unfair burden on the younger population.

"I feel that the younger people today make more money than I ever did when I was their age," he said. "I started my first job when I was 11 years old, and I earned 15 cents an hour. In high school, I went to school half a day and worked the other half and earned 25 cents an hour. We are the generation that learned to save money. We had to. I tell young people now, before you buy anything ask yourself two questions: do you really have to have it and can you pay for it? If you say no to either question, walk away for it."

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