Volunteer work for a lower property tax bill?

D5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo requests tax relief program for seniors

A West Side councilwoman wants senior homeowners who volunteer at senior centers and libraries to get a break on their property tax bills.

SAN ANTONIO – A West Side councilwoman wants senior homeowners who volunteer at senior centers and libraries to get a break on their property tax bills.

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo submitted a council consideration request (CCR) Wednesday, asking city staff to develop a pilot program for homeowners 65 years and older to lower their property tax bills in exchange for volunteering for the city.

State law enables cities and other taxing bodies to allow senior homeowners to perform service for the taxing body in lieu of payment. For every hour of volunteer service, the homeowner can accumulate credit toward their property tax bill at the federal hourly minimum wage rate, which is currently $7.25 per hour.

Volunteering 42 hours over a year, for example, would knock a little more than $300 off the city portion of the homeowner’s bill.

“And $300 to $500 is nothing to sneeze at for many of our seniors in the city of San Antonio. That’s the difference between their utilities, groceries, medication or all of the above,” Castillo told KSAT.

“So we need to keep in mind that there are folks already doing this work for free, and there’s opportunity for us to provide that property tax relief for those folks who come to our senior centers that have been volunteering to receive an incentive for their work,” Castillo said.

The councilwoman said other Texas cities have explored similar options but did not know of any that have enacted one. She pointed to Boston as an example, though, which allows its home-owning seniors to get up to $1,500 worth of tax abatement through volunteering.

The CCR provides examples of possible volunteer activities like:

  • Arranging/organizing books in public libraries
  • Reading to others
  • Answering phones at local senior and community centers
  • Low-impact public art displays
  • Assisting with art and recreational classes/activities at senior and community centers
  • Providing conversation, outreach, and education to other local seniors

The city would need to determine how many volunteer hours a senior could get credit for and how many people would be permitted to participate.

The councilwoman says the program, which she has called the San Antonio Volunteer Exemption for Seniors (SAVES) Program, could do more than offer financial help.

“So this is also incentive to -- one, to have our seniors come back out to our senior centers. But there’s also an opportunity to address that isolation that many seniors have been sharing within our community,” Castillo said.

Castillo has asked city staff to provide a recommendation for the program in time to be discussed as part of the FY 2023 budget process. Budget discussions began in April, and the council will likely pass a budget in September, ahead of the start of its fiscal year on Oct. 1.

In the meantime, Castillo’s request will need to be considered by the city council’s Governance Committee first.

The CCR was also signed by D4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia, D6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, D9 Councilman John Courage, and D10 Councilman Clayton Perry.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.