Are property owners entitled to a temporary property tax
exemption for properties damaged by a disaster if they have suffered economic
loss due to the coronavirus pandemic?
According to a Texas attorney general opinion released yesterday
(April 13), the answer is no. At issue in the opinion is whether a new disaster-related property tax exemption, passed in 2019,
applies only to property that has suffered physical damage (as opposed to
purely economic loss) as the result of a disaster.
In Opinion No. KP-299, the attorney general evaluated the
plain language of the statute to determine that the word “damage” refers only
to “physical harm” to the property: According to the attorney general,
“[n]othing in the language of section 11.35 evidences an intent on the part of
the Legislature to address non-physical damage to property by allowing an
exemption in such circumstances.”
As a result, a court would likely conclude that the legislature
intended to limit the tax exemption in Tax Code Section 11.35 to property that
is physically harmed as a result of a declared disaster.
Has the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC)
published any guidance for records management officers about how long to keep
Yes. The State and Local Records Management Division of
TSLAC publishes a very informative blog called The Texas Record. An April 13 blog post explains there are two basic points to
keep in mind when it comes to handling COVID-19-related records.
Just like any other city record, the first question to ask
yourself when dealing with COVID-19 records is what function (or purpose) the
record serves. Most functions that your city performs are already covered in
one of TSLAC’s local retention schedules. Once you determine the function
of the record, you can classify it into the correct series. The blog post
contains helpful examples of common series under which COVID-19 records might
Second, you need to evaluate: (1) the historical value of the
records; and (2) whether the records must be kept because they are subject to a
legal hold, litigation, public information request, audit, or other claim –
even if the retention period has been met. See Local Government Code Section 202.002. Because of special legal and fiscal issues in
regard to COVID-19 records, you may decide to place an indefinite destruction
hold on the records.
The blog post concludes that “[i]t is difficult, if not
impossible, to appraise the historical significance of COVID-19 records while
we are all currently in the midst of the crisis. The simplest approach [records
management officers] can take right now is to classify COVID-19 records
according to their function as usual, and consider placing destruction holds on
all COVID-19 records until the official course of action becomes clear.”
Still have questions? You can find your TSLAC local government
analyst here. And you can read more about city records management here.