When a developer uses a cow or two to dodge property taxes, guess who pays: Homeowners

We finally know what Texas lawmakers meant when, at the end of this year’s legislative session, they crowed about relief from property taxes.

Developers who keep a cow or two on a few urban or suburban acres are paying less in back taxes when they cash in and build a shopping center or another subdivision, thanks to a new state law.

Yes, the Legislature also poured more money into schools, allowing local districts to lower their tax rates. But that merely slowed the increase in what homeowners in growing areas such as Tarrant County are paying, as their property appraisals rise.

The connection, as outlined by reporter Anna M. Tinsley’s examination of the impact of agricultural exemptions in Fort Worth and Arlington, is this: Exemptions allow landowners to pay far less than their property is worth. Agriculture exemptions will reduce tax collections by Tarrant County governments by tens of millions of dollars this year. Local school districts, cities and the county have to make that up somewhere.

Under the new law, a property owner who converts agricultural land will pay three years of back taxes based on the land’s full value, along with 5 percent interest. That’s down from five years and 7 percent. As homeowners struggle with booming bills, it’s a bad time to relax what commercial owners are paying.

Read more from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram here.