The Texas Supreme Court has declined to step in Kilgore ISD’s ongoing homestead exemption debate. Twice.
Earlier this month, the state’s highest judicial body denied a motion for rehearing filed by KISD in the ongoing litigation case Kilgore ISD v. Axberg, which revolves around the district’s repeal of a Local Option Homestead Exemption in 2015.
District officials have yet to weigh in on the latest development in the lawsuit, pending an update from the lawyers handling the case.
On Sept. 16, the KISD Board of Trustees met in closed session with the school’s attorney Dennis Eichelbaum, citing Section 551.071 of Texas Government Code, which allows a governmental body to conduct a private consultation with legal counsel on pending or contemplated litigation.
According to records on file at the websites of the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Sixth Court of Appeals, a motion for rehearing on petition for review from the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texarkana was filed in the Texas Supreme Court at 2:24 p.m. the same day.
Axberg v. Kilgore ISD is a suit filed against the district in Sept. 2016 in Gregg County Court at Law No. 2 by John Claude Axberg, Darlene Axberg and Sheila Anderson. The plaintiffs are residents of KISD’s tax district and filed suit after the district rescinded a Local Option Homestead Exemption, which allows some property owners to exempt part of their property value from tax assessments.
KISD rescinded its 20-percent LOHE, which the district had voluntarily maintained for decades, in May 2015 following the Texas legislature’s introduction of a constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 1, which mandated Texas school districts could not remove or reduce their LOHEs from the amount set for the 2014 tax year through the 2019 tax year. The amendment also mandated an increase in the amount of taxable property covered by the exemption.
At the time, board members said they rescinded the LOHE to retain local control of the tax exemption they had offered to residents of KISD’s tax district for years, without being locked into a state-mandated rate until 2019.
On Feb. 11 of this year, the Sixth Court of Appeals issued a judgment finding “that Section 11.13(n-1) of the Texas Tax Code [SB-1’s repeal prohibition] (a) is constitutional, and (b) prohibits school districts from repealing or reducing the amount of a local option homestead exemption that was adopted for the 2014 tax year at any time between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2019, and (2) that the repeal and any reduction by the Kilgore Independent School District of the local option homestead exemption that it adopted for the 2014 tax year violates Section 11.13(n-1) of the Texas Tax Code [SB-1’s repeal prohibition] and, therefore, has no effect and is void as a matter of law.”
On Feb. 22, a motion for rehearing was filed on behalf of KISD in the Sixth Court of Appeals, alleging SB-1 and SJR-1 are not retroactive, that KISD taxpayers received the tax benefit intended by the amendment and the state’s judgment should be reversed.
The Sixth Court denied this motion Feb. 22.
Following that decision, a petition for a review of the case was filed in the Texas Supreme Court April 3 and an amicus curiae brief was filed on behalf of Texas Association of School Boards Legal Assistance Fund April 17. On Aug. 9, after a July motion for additional time to file was granted, another amicus curiae motion was filed on behalf of Dumas ISD and White Deer ISD, submitted by Slater C. Elza of the Underwood Law Firm in Amarillo.
A letter of amicus curiae, or an “amicus brief,” is submitted when “a person or group who is not a party to an action, but has a strong interest in the matter, will petition the court for permission to submit a brief in the action with the intent of influencing the court’s decision,” according to the Legal Information Institute website of Cornell Law School.
KISD’s motion for rehearing filed Sept. 16, Cause No. 06-18-00016-CV, raised two issues, according to the text of the motion: that, “should the Supreme Court not reverse the Sixth Court of Appeals’ decision, precedent will remain on the books that contradicts years of this Court’s precedent that the Legislature’s words matter.” The motion also questioned if the Sixth Court of Appeals’ decision finding SB-1 and SJR-1 retroactive was “contrary to the Texas constitution, state law, legal precedent and the basic rules of grammar.”
This motion was denied Oct. 18.
Superintendent Dr. Andy Baker said the board has not held any additional meetings on the matter since the last motion for rehearing was filed.
“We have not spoken to the TASB attorney about this case since back at our September 16th special meeting...so there has been no additional conversations by the Board as to possible next steps, etc,” Baker said in an email.