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San Antonio

Bexar County Commissioners back public awareness campaigns on property tax assistance, mail-in ballots

Completion notice taped on door after family is evicted from house in Waco, Texas,  December 30, 2008
Larry Downing
/
REUTERS
A completion notice is taped on a door .

Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti told county commissioners Tuesday that eligible property taxpayers behind on their payments can apply for assistance, but accessing the application is difficult for some residents.

The $80 million in the federal Homeowners Assistance Fund is paid out by the state.

Uresti reports the fund is part of the federal American Rescue Plan administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. He told commissioners many residents do not have online access to the application.

Uresti said his office has sent out letters to 15,000 residents who are delinquent. Commissioner Tommy Calvert praised Uresti's efforts.

"This is a particularly important thing for Bexar County because we have a lot of vulture capitalists who are waiting to take people's property in foreclosure," Calvert said.

Uresti said a few county tax office staff members and computers at the downtown tax office are available for assistance. Commissioners also backed a public awareness campaign, pressing some nonprofits into action to assist delinquent property taxpayers and making computers available at local Bibliotechs.

Uresti called the requirements to get assistance "liberal." He said a household of four with an income of $79,000 is the upper cut-off for the assistance. The assistance does not have to be paid back.

In other action, commissioners directed staff to plan and budget a public awareness campaign to curb the number of mail-in ballot applications that are rejected by the county election's office following implementation of the more stringent voting requirements under Senate Bill 1 before the November elections.

The district attorney's office recommended such a campaign focus on voter education so it would not run the risk of being in legal violation of the requirements.

Commissioners were told the rejection rate dropped after voters started putting partial social security numbers and driver's license numbers on their applications, giving election office workers two numbers to validate applications.

The district attorney's office also recommended the public awareness campaign should encourage voters to make sure their voter registration information is up to date.

It is likely the public awareness campaign will focus on both properly filling out an application and keeping voter registration information up to date.

County Judge Nelson Wolff lashed out at state lawmakers for the implementation of Senate Bill 1. He said it has harmed the Democratic and Republican party turnout, especially among the most vulnerable who can't make it to the polls, like the disabled and seniors. Wolff said both parties saw many applications rejected before the March
primaries.

Wolff backed the recommendations to get information out to the public to prevent thousands of application rejections.

"I'm sure nobody would oppose providing information to the voter and maybe that would stop this... 4,000 people were denied. They were targeting senior citizens. You ought to be ashamed of yourself," Wolff said of the GOP-led Texas Legislature.

In other action, commissioners:

  • Approved the submission of a $2.3 million electronic grant application to the state to pay for 11 new employees and operating costs to provide indigent defendants with legal defense. The two-year grant would cover those costs through September 2023.
  • Honored pro wrestler Melissa Cervantes, also known as "Thunder Rosa," with a proclamation for her accomplishments not only in wrestling, but also for her work on women's rights and promoting women's athletics.  
  • Recognized April as Alcohol Awareness Month in Association with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the state department of transportation.  The recognition comes as the City of San Antonio celebrates Fiesta and drinking and driving become major concerns.
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