Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Tuesday that Kilgore ISD had no legal grounds to lower or reject local option homestead exemptions for residents in their Gregg County tax base.
In a press release from Paxton's office, the AG lambasted districts for “brushing off state laws by altering LOHEs.
“Kilgore ISD cannot legally siphon money away from homeowners without their vote or consent. I'm grateful that the court recognized that local governments cannot simply brush off laws they do not like. My office is proud to stand up for Texas homeowners and taxpayers in every school district, Paxton said.
The opinion was issued by the 6th District Court of Appeals in Texarkana. It is the latest development in a years-long legal case stemming from a May 2015 school funding bill which prohibited Texas school districts repealing or reducing LOHEs. Though the bill was passed by the legislature in May 2015, it wasn't approved by Texas voters until November. In the interim, KISD – along with several other Texas school districts – voted to repeal the 20 percent tax exemption. At the time of the June 2015 vote to repeal the exemption, board members said they did so in the belief that this would give them more local control over tax rates. They believed if they did not rescind the exemption, they would be locked into state-mandated tax rates for the next several years.
Since that time, KISD has been sued by several Gregg County taxpayers seeking to recoup taxes they say were unfairly levied in light of the retroactive funding bill.
Superintendent Dr. Andy Baker acknowledged the opinion Tuesday and said board members would soon begin working on how best to proceed.
“(The) Court of Appeals has now issued an opinion on the lawsuit filed against Kilgore ISD from several years ago concerning the school district's authority to repeal and/or lower our Local Optional Homestead Exemption. I do know this has been an ongoing issue for Kilgore ISD and other school districts who also repealed their local optional homestead exemptions as this case has worked its way through our legal system, Baker wrote in an email.
Baker, who began work at KISD in January after years in the superintendency post at Edgewood ISD, said he is getting up to speed on the ruling.
“The Appellate Court's ruling just came through yesterday. I do not have a lot of knowledge concerning this case but I am currently in the process of attempting to become more familiar with the facts of this lawsuit thus far. I am also attempting to get our KISD school board members together to discuss options available to the district as we look to move forward. At this point there are no definitive plans from Kilgore ISD as to how we might possibly address the court's recent opinion, but I hope to have more direct answers to these questions very soon.
KISD was one of 20 school districts in the state which chose to repeal its LOHE after the 2015 funding bill was approved by the legislature.
Paxton supported the Gregg County taxpayers in their lawsuit when it was filed in 2016 and supported lawsuits in White Deer and Dumas school districts as well, according to the press release.