West, Texas continues to be rocked by the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion last month. Victims are now discovering they may still have to pay property taxes on their destroyed homes. While these homeowners can file protests until the end of May, the law requires property values to be determined on January 1 of the tax year. Local governments are allowed to reappraise homes after natural disasters, but the fertilizer plant explosion was very much a man-made calamity.
Even the mayor, Tommy Muska, has filed to protest the property value of his home, which is so badly damaged from the blast that it may cost $300,000 to repair. However, the mayor noted, granting victims relief is a “double-edged sword,” as the town will flounder from the millions of lost tax dollars. The magnitude of the explosion, which claimed 15 lives and injured 160 others, also devastated a huge chunk of West’s much-needed revenue for many years to come:
Hahn estimated that West lost at least $29 million in taxable value as a result of the blast, not counting damage to nontaxable property such as schools, water tanks and infrastructure.
That amount represents more than one-fifth of West’s tax base of $140.4 million, according to preliminary values. Hahn said losing that much revenue this year would hobble the finances of the city and West Independent School District when they need the money the most.
Whatever the appraisal district decides, either the victims or the town will take a debilitating hit. Victims cannot count on West Fertilizer Co. for compensation, either. The plant was only insured for $1 million of damages, a negligible sum that does not even begin to cover the actual losses. Property damage alone is projected to reach $100 million. Even so, the company was not required to carry any liability insurance at all. Many states, including Texas, do not impose any legal requirements for companies to have liability insurance. This latest revelation is just one of the myriad regulatory failures that led to the deadly explosion.
On Friday, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers launched a criminal investigation into the explosion. Some victims are also pursuing civil lawsuits against the company.