Attorney General Rulings
Texas AG Issues Four Opinions on Various Topics
Texas Attorney General John Cornyn issued four opinions that addressed questions dealing with the Property Tax Code and other related areas of interest to local appraisal districts and taxing units. The topics included a hospital districts maximum tax rate, clarification of an earlier tax abatement opinion, electronic transfer of funds and a newspaper of general circulation.Hospital district
In Opinion No. JC-0247, issued July 7, General Cornyn ruled that a hospital district governed by Health and Safety Code Chapter 286 may not hold an election to increase the maximum tax rate that the voters approved in an election to convert from a Chapter 282 hospital district.Clarification of abatement opinion
Chambers County Attorney Charles Black asked whether a converted hospital district from a Chapter 282 to a Chapter 286 district by election may ask the voters to increase the maximum rate from $0.40 to $0.75. In the election to convert from the Chapter 282 district to a Chapter 286 hospital district, the voters approved a maximum rate of $0.40, as stated on the election ballot. Both Chapters 282 and 286 provide for a rate not to exceed $0.75.
The opinion held that Chapter 286 does not expressly provide for an election to increase the maximum tax rate, and that the hospital district does not have the authority to put the issue of a tax increase to the voters. It stated that while the hospital district may believe that increasing the rate "is in the best interest" of the districts residents and "preserves a balance of legislative and local control, the fact is that neither the constitution nor chapter 286 expressly authorizes the District to hold such an election."
On June 22, General Cornyn in Opinion No. JC-0236 clarified Opinion No. JC-0155 (1999) on Tax Code Chapter 312, dealing with tax abatements.Electronic transfer of funds
Opinion No. JC-0155 concluded that a property owner receiving a municipal tax abatement was not barred from serving on the city council that grated the abatement, but the property "may not continue to receive a municipal tax abatement once its owner is elected to the city council."
State Senator Chris Harris, chair of the Administration Committee, asked if the tax abatement stops at the moment of the election or at the end of the year.
Opinion No. JC-0236 held that the exemption for tax abatement stops when the property owner assumes office as a member of the city council. The opinion stated that the citys attorney should consult the city charter, ordinances and minutes of the city council meetings to determine the date at which the property owner assumed office as a member of the city council. It held that the exemption ends as of that date and the tax due on the property for the year is determined according to Tax Code Section 26.10. Section 26.10 sets for the proration of taxes when an exemption ends.
In Opinion No. JC-023, the attorney general held that county tax funds may be electronically transferred from the county tax assessors account in the county depository to the county treasury, but only the county tax assessor-collector is authorized to initiate electronic transfer of the funds.Newspaper of general circulation
The June 21 opinion was in response to a question from Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Susan D. Reed on which county officer was the proper party to initiate the electronic transfer of funds.
The opinion stated that the county tax assessor-collector "is required to deposit the taxes collected by that officer in the county depository and controls those funds pending their transfer to the appropriate taxing unit, including the county." The opinion also stated that the county treasurer is not authorized to initiate the electronic transfer.
On May 22, the attorney general issued Opinion No. JC-0223 on what constitutes a "newspaper of general circulation" for the purpose of publishing legal notices.
Fort Bend County Attorney Ben W. Childers asked seven questions on statutes that require a governmental entity to publish notices in a legal newspaper. His questions included what constitutes a legal newspaper, what determines general circulation and other related areas.
The opinion concluded that, "to be a newspaper of general circulation, a newspaper must have more than a de minimis number of subscribers within a particular geographic region; must have a diverse subscribership; and must contain some news, editorials, and advertisements of a general character and interest to the community."
The opinion reviewed Government Code Section 2051.044 that lists four criteria of a newspaper in which a notice must be published:
- devote not less than 25 percent of its total column lineage to general interest items;
- be published at least once every week;
- be entered as second-class postal matter in the county where published; and
- have been published regularly and continuously for at least 12 months before the governmental entity or representative publishes notice.
The opinion stated that whether a newspaper is one of general circulation is a question of fact to be determined by the governmental entity.