The League City council was right Tuesday to vote against an immediate reassessment of taxable value for Hurricane Harvey-damaged properties.
In doing so, it joined other governments in the county, including the county, that also have, prudently, rejected the idea.
While a quick reassessment of individual properties is legally and theoretically possible, there would have been very little practical benefit for taxpayers, and a great deal of public expense, which, of course, is ultimately borne by the same taxpayers who would get the very-little benefit.
Even some proponents of the reassessment have admitted it would have been mostly symbolic.
“It’s not about relief,” Councilman Nick Long said. “It’s about are you going to do what is right.”
What’s right, however, and always is right, is careful stewardship of public money and resources, and a snap reassessment of property just wouldn’t have been that.
League City would have had to pay about $22 a parcel for the reappraisal, Chief Appraiser Tommy Watson told the council. With about 7,700 homes damaged in the flood, the cost would be about $169,400. Watson would have to hire outside contractors to do the work, he said.
The reappraisal would have saved an average League City homeowner $102, Watson said.
An immediate reappraisal would have been an expensive, unwieldy process that sucked up lots of public money without providing very much public benefit.
And even the modest tax savings would have been false savings.
What the proponents of this plan were advocating was a tax cut at a time of extraordinary public expense. They have a right to advocate for a tax cut, of course, but also a responsibility to call it what it is and discuss the true costs.
What services, for example, could that average League City homeowner expect to give up to get that $102 in savings? Should the city lay off some police officers? Cut the public works department? Stop repairing roads, water and sewer systems?
Nobody advocating the reappraisal addressed any of that.
The reappraisal would mostly have been a political theater production underwritten by the taxpayers at the cost of about $170,000.
And political theater may have been the point all along. The whole idea has all the earmarks of a political red herring, of sorts; a political ploy that works like this: Roll out a plan that looks good at first glance but is doomed to fail because it’s so flawed in the details that no responsible official will support it. When it fails, and the inevitable bad consequences of it have been averted, make political hay by blaming the officials who opposed it for killing a really great idea.
It’s worth noting that there are cost-effective ways to deliver some real benefit to people affected by the flooding, as Councilman Larry Millican, who voted against the reappraisal, said Tuesday.
The council could forgive city water bills for a month or two, for example, he said.
The city could also waive all sorts of fees, such as those for building permits needed to replace drywall and flooring, for example.
Those things might be more valuable in terms of hard dollars, and certainly would be more cost-effective than a reappraisal.
• Michael A. Smith