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Fort Worth's homestead exemption audit would cost up to $2.7 million

By Scott Nishimura

snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth would spend up to $2.7 million to conduct an audit of existing homestead exemptions in the city to make sure they’re valid and the city isn’t losing property tax money.

The city staff made the estimate to the City Council in a report ahead of Tuesday’s council vote on whether to conduct the audit. The staff disclosed a week and a half ago that it scheduled the audit for the vote.

Tax Management Associates is the vendor, and it would be paid a flat fee per exemption removed, once the city collects the tax revenue. The council will vote on approving TMA and the $2.7 million maximum fee.

According to TMA estimates, “the city may achieve a net gain from the audit in the first year even after fees are taken into account,” the earlier staff report said. “Greenville County, S.C., was able to recover almost $2.5 million in additional revenues during the first 18 months after having TMA perform such an audit.”

The report also said, “this audit will provide a long-term benefit by helping ensure that going forward, the city receives the revenue that it is owed.“

The audit will validate application, but won’t change the structure of homestead exemptions.

If the audit finds exemptions the audit states may be invalid, the property owner would receive an initial notice from TMA, with information about the state’s homestead exemption and who to contact for questions.

If the Tarrant Appraisal District reviews the documentation and agrees the exemption “appears to be in error,” the property owner would receive a second notice stating the district intends to remove the exemption and the property owner has 30 days to protest.

If the exemption is eventually removed, the property owner would see a tax bill within two to six weeks for the amount owned, and would have three to six weeks to pay before penalties and interest apply.

If the audit finds the exemption has been incorrectly awarded for multiple years, the taxpayer would be required to pay additional taxes for up to the last five years in arrears.

The homestead exemption allows taxing entities to exempt up to 20 percent of a home’s value for property tax calculations. Fort Worth's is 20 percent.

To claim a homestead exemption for a given year, the property owner and spouse must have owned and occupied the home as their principal residence as of Jan. 1 that year. Only one homestead exemption is allowed per taxpayer.

Condos and mobile homes qualify.

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