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Nov
20

Will Flood Insurance Changes Put Property Values Under Water?

"Both residential and commercial policy holders currently benefitting from subsidized rates will see a 25 percent yearly rate increase until each rate reflects "true flood risk" according to the new flood insurance maps to be generated by FEMA. New risk tables will not be available until June 2013, making the magnitude of the adjustments uncertain..."

In Texas, flooding is a part of life. Between the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, seven major hurricanes and destructive tropical storms have ravished the Texas Gulf Coast. The people of Texas have lived through, and re-built, in the wake of these and many other flooding events.

Congress enacted the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 to create the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), intended to provide an insurance alternative to help property owners meet the escalating costs of repairing damage to buildings and other property losses. The program insures roughly 5.5 million homes, the majority of which are in Texas and Florida. The NFIP also provides building-and-contents flood insurance for businesses.

Communities participating in the program must adopt and enforce a floodplain management ordinance to reduce flood risks in zones recognized as Special Flood Hazard Areas. In exchange, the federal government will underwrite flood insurance for these high-risk communities. The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 made the purchase of flood insurance mandatory for the protection of property within designated special flood hazard areas. Later, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004 further modified the national flood insurance program to reduce losses to property owners with repetitive claims.

Rates for policies under the national program are in most cases substantially lower than privately available insurance, and are the only coverage available for some high-risk locations. Policy premium rates are depicted on flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) and the mapping process is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees the flood insurance program.

Since 1978, the national flood insurance program has paid more than $38 billion in claims, and in 2012, it insured roughly $1.2 trillion worth of property. In January 2009, mostly as a result of the devastating 2005 hurricane season, the national flood insurance program owed the U.S. Treasury approximately $19.2 billion, with yearly interest payments of more than $730 million. The program's worrisome financial health brought it under scrutiny during the 2009 re-authorization process, and the Government Accountability Office issued multiple reports on the program.

Congress passed the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 to modify the way FEMA manages the national flood insurance program. The act will require the program's rates to reflect true flood risks, a premium hike that should make the program more financially stable. The 2012 act also calls for FEMA to change the way it implements flood insurance rate maps: Under the act's provisions, actions such as buying a property, allowing a policy to lapse or purchasing a new policy can trigger rate changes, effectively ending subsidies and grandfathered policies.

Both residential and commercial policy holders currently benefitting from subsidized rates will see a 25 percent yearly rate increase until each rate reflects "true flood risk" according to the new flood insurance maps to be generated by FEMA. New risk tables will not be available until June 2013, making the magnitude of the adjustments uncertain.

The uncertainty about rates presents a hazard to property values in high risk areas. The greatest uncertainty and risk to property values, however, may be updates to flood insurance maps, which FEMA is currently preparing.

Some policy changes, such as ceasing to recognize private levies and revisions to historical flood lines, may change the risk rating of many properties. For properties where the risk severity and availability of subsidies are changing, the overall economic viability of the property may be at risk.

Changes to the national flood insurance program have created economic obsolescence affecting the values both of properties currently in the program and of properties not in the program, which may have their risk rating changed by the flood maps' pending revision.

While the magnitude of the change in property values may be unknown for several more months, enough information is available to argue that the additional risk these regulatory changes introduce will reduce taxable values of potentially affected properties. Once all the variables are known, affected property owners should undertake an in-depth analysis of the effect of the regulations on property value to determine whether a tax appeal is necessary to obtain a fair property tax assessment.

RodriganoSebastian Rodrigano is a principal at the Texas law firm of Popp HutchesonPLLC. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Rodrigano can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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Apr
10

Texas' Pro-Business Environment Doesn't Extend To Property Taxes

"While Texas remains one of the best places in the nation to do business, the property tax burden here is substantial. Careful planning of new investment in the state can considerably mitigate property taxes for a significant period of time..."

By Sebastian Rodrigano, as published by Texas Real Estate Business, April 2012

The idea that Texas offers a favorable business climate is deeply rooted in the business community, but a business must monitor its property tax burden or risk paying unnecessarily high tax bills.

It's understandable that many Texas businesses downplay the impact of property taxes on their bottom line. Late last summer, a survey by Development Counselors International rated Texas as having the best business climate in the nation for the 12th consecutive year. Survey respondents cited the tax climate, pro-business environment and economic development incentives as the top reasons for favoring the state.

As a 20-year Texas resident, I considered Texas' business climate supremacy to be indisputable. When a client requested a quick check of property tax projections to evaluate locations for a new facility, however, I had trouble reconciling the data with my beliefs about the competitiveness of Texas in attracting new business.

TaxChart2 BIG TAXES IN TEXAS: Across a 20-year period, property taxes on four hypothetical commercial buildings, all valued at $200,000 in the first year, would be nearly four times higher in Texas than in many other states.

The client was trying to decide where to build a $200 million facility, assuming that every available property tax exemption would be granted in each of the states considered. Over a 20-year period, the estimated property taxes in Texas were close to four times those of the nearest competitor.

This result seemed incongruous, to say the least, with Texas' top national ranking in the "tax climate" category. A number of business representatives have assured me that in spite of a disproportionate property tax load carried by businesses, the overall tax picture is more beneficial in Texas than in most other states. Yet the magnitude of a business' property tax burden in this state demands significant attention and prudent management.

For existing infrastructure, much can be done to minimize taxes by ensuring that properties are properly and equitably valued. When dealing with new construction, a number of incentives and exemptions are available to help alleviate the property tax burden. Here are a few options for properties old and new.

Tax Abatement Agreements. Chapter 312 of the Texas Property Tax Code allows taxing entities to enter into agreements with taxpayers to exempt all or some of the value of real and/or tangible personal property from taxation for a period not to exceed 10 years. School districts may not enter into tax abatements. Generally, the agreement must be approved before construction begins.

Value Limitation and Tax Credit Agreements. A school district may agree to limit the taxable value of new property for up to 8 years under Chapter 313 of the Texas Property Tax Code. The limitation applies only to school district maintenance and operations taxes applicable to the property. These exemptions are commonly referred to as House Bill 1200 limitations and can be used in conjunction with a tax abatement agreement.

Economic Development Refund. Chapter 111 of the Property Tax Code provides for state tax refunds to qualified property owners that entered into chapter 312 tax abatement agreements after Jan. 1, 1996, without the benefit of a Chapter 313 value limitation.

Freeport Exemption. The Freeport exemption includes a total tax exemption for personal property (excluding petroleum products) that is detained in the state for less than 175 days for assembling, storing, manufacturing, processing or fabrication purposes. Each taxing jurisdiction must elect to participate. In some instances taxing jurisdictions that previously had not granted an exemption for a Freeport zone have opted into the exemption to incentivize business development. This exemption is described in Section 11.251 of the Property Tax Code.

While Texas remains one of the best places in the nation to do business, the property tax burden here is substantial. Careful planning of new investment in the state can considerably mitigate property taxes for a significant period of time, and a watchful eye over assessments will allow for a less costly experience while doing business in Texas.

Rodrigano Sebastian Rodrigano is a principal at the Texas law firm of Popp, Gray and Hutcheson, PLLC. The firm devotes its practice to the representation of taxpayers in property tax disputes and is the Texas member of the American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. Rodrigano can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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