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Brian Schaeffer

TACO Executive Director and CEO Brian Schaeffer speaks during the TACO conference.

No legislative relief from property taxes is expected in Texas before the Legislature completes its two-year session May 29, according to Ron Hinkle, the longtime lobbyist for the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).

“There are major disagreements with the Speaker and Lt. Governor on what and how property tax relief will be finalized,” Hinkle said during his presentation to TACO members on Wednesday (April 26), the second and final day of the association’s annual Spring Meeting and Trade Show.

“The chasm is so wide in their differences that there will be no final resolution before the Texas Legislature ends on May 29 and, therefore, the Governor will (have to) call a Special Session to continue the dialogue on what (he) hopes (will) be a final bill that provides real property tax relief and reduction,” added Hinkle. “The special session would likely take place almost immediately following the regular session, so June would be the target until they get an agreement.”

Texas lawmakers have introduced bills to try to address the problem of rapidly escalating property tax rates, which have increased property taxes for Texas RV park owners by 100% to 400% and, in some cases, by more than 500% in recent years.

Hinkle said HB 1895, sponsored by Rep. J.M.  Lozano, R- Kingsville, would benefit RV parks by allowing RV parks to be appraised using a “cost methodology.”

“Currently and unofficially, RV parks are mostly subjected to the income methodology, which acts almost as a de facto income tax,” Hinkle said. “The cost methodology of appraisals would be more market-based and truer to the real value of an RV park. The bill, however, has not had a hearing and will likely not pass this legislative session. However, HB 2, (sponsored) by Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Highland Park, is a bill that will cap appraisals for both residential homes and commercial entities. That bill passed the Texas House and is now in the Senate. There is a problem, though, in that the Senate passed its own version of property tax relief in SB 3. That bill is more on raising the homestead exemption and minor tax credits to commercial entities. That bill passed the Senate and is sitting in the House Ways & Means Committee and has not been scheduled for a hearing to date.”

While no immediate relief is in store to protect Texas park operators from rapidly escalating property taxes, legislation is in the works that could protect park operators from costs associated with frivolous lawsuits as well as excessive water utility costs.

HB 2636, sponsored by Andrew Murr, R-Kerrville, would protect campground and RV park operators from liability involving certain types of injuries that take place at a park due to the guests’ own negligence.

“It gives you a first level of defense against frivolous lawsuits,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO, who joined Hinkle and TACO President Randall Dally in making the government affairs presentation. “The bill did pass the Texas House unanimously and is in the Senate to be referred to committee,” Hinkle said, adding that Senator Pete Flores, R-San Antonio, has offered to sponsor the bill.

Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed that could potentially lower water costs for RV parks. HB 1612, sponsored by Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, and its Senate companion bill, SB 594, sponsored by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would prevent water utilities from charging RV parks water service fees on a per-site basis, which has the effect of forcing RV parks to pay for more water than they could ever actually use.

“What can come out of these bills, should they pass the Legislature, is the cost savings from Water Supply Corporations in that they will not be subjected to over-buying water for its customers that will not be used,” Hinkle said.

Legislation has also been proposed that could give RV park operators and developers the ability to encourage cities and counties to adhere to national RV park construction standards instead of trying to create their own construction guidelines. HB 1286, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Guillen, R-Rio Grande City, would establish uniform building codes for RV parks in Texas, using NFPA 1194 standards as a guide.

While legislation has been proposed involving numerous changes to Texas state laws for the benefit of RV park operators, state funding for tourism marketing is expected to remain relatively unchanged.

The tourism marketing budget, known as the “Governor’s Trusted Program,” did not increase significantly in the current state budget, Hinkle said.

“The ‘Trusted Program’ for marketing and advertising Texas nationally and in key international markets is approximately $73 million for the biennium. The budget is not finalized, but we do not expect those funds to be affected,” he said.

Texas is consistently the No. 2 or No. 3 state travel destination in the U.S. and the seventh in the nation for international travelers, he said.

TACO’s annual Spring Meeting and Trade Show concluded Wednesday with record attendance at both the meetings and trade show with 76 vendors.

Wednesday’s session included seminars titled “Building and Expanding Your Park” by Jayne Cohen and Terry Munoz, vice president of the recreational properties division at Signorelli Company in The Woodlands; “Is Selling Propane Giving You Gas?” by April Richardson and David Vire, of The Railroad Commission of Texas; and “Developing an RV Destination for Tomorrow’s Guest,” by Ed O. Bridgman, of EOB Consulting.