School district’s mistake means Harris County property owners will pay less in taxes

Harris County Board of Education building in Hamilton.
Harris County Board of Education building in Hamilton.

Harris County School District superintendent Roger Couch is taking responsibility for the mistake that led to overtaxing property owners last year and will result in them paying less in taxes this year.

Couch inadvertently kept the extra property tax of 0.65% in the 2018 budget he presented to the Harris County Board of Education last summer, he told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Tuesday, after HCSD announced the tax rollback.

The extra tax was supposed to end then because the debt of about $10 million that helped build Creekside School had been paid off, Couch said. That meant Harris County property owners paid a total of $850,106.87 in overcharged taxes, he said.

So to pay back the property owners, the 0.65% extra tax is eliminated and the 2019 property tax millage rate is rolled back by 0.65%. HCSD finance director Kelly Bowen estimated the rollback equals a savings of around $50 for the owner of a $100,000 home compared to 2018.

Couch said he had been superintendent for only three weeks before the 2018 budget was due to the school board. The mistake was discovered a year later, he said, when he and his staff were preparing the 2019 budget

“I didn’t even know the bonded indebtedness had been closed out,” he said. “We got to checking on it, researching it, and we looked at what was going on, and it was a mistake. … It’s the superintendent’s responsibility to work on the budget.”

Asked for his reaction when the mistake was discovered, Couch said, “It bothered me. … Our only question was what process can we use to get the money back to the taxpayers that’s not going to be more confusing, and this seemed like the best alternative.”

HCSD’s attorney has been in contact with the Georgia Department of Revenue and the Georgia Attorney General’s office to ensure the school district’s remedy is legal, Couch said. Nobody was or will be penalized because of the mistake, he said.

“There was no intention to defraud,” he said.

Those who paid Harris County property taxes in 2018 but sold the property in 2019 can be reimbursed for the erroneous extra payment if they contact the HCSD finance department with proof of their tax payment, said HCSD spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.