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Apr 14

April 14, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #22

Posted on April 14, 2020 at 4:32 PM by TML Staff

Urgent Updates

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.

Further Updates

Has the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) published any guidance for records management officers about how long to keep COVID-19 records?

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 fall.

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.