Almost 2,000 homes were destroyed in Central Texas by a wildfire that raged for nine days in 2011. But it wasn’t only people who lost their homes who took a hit.
Texas doesn’t have a state income tax, and there’s no property tax on cars. Counties make most of their money on real estate taxes.
The fire tore through Bastrop County, outside of Austin. As a result, the county lost a lot of money. Many of its taxable properties simply didn’t exist anymore. Debbie Denny, head of the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce in 2011, said of the county: “It seems like they’re trying to make up for it now.”
Denny’s son and daughter-in-law lost their house in the fire. Like a lot of people, they took the insurance money and built a bigger home. But they didn’t think about the higher property taxes they would end up paying on a nicer house.
Donald Barron, owner of Texas Classic Custom Homes, said business was slow before the fire. Then there was about a month of everyone trying to come to grips with what had just happened.
“And then people started getting their preliminary checks, and then they started going through getting their big checks,” he said. “Once they got that, it was real interesting to see them come in and kind of focus on rebuilding their home, which is the first step in rebuilding their lives.”
Home builders weren’t the only ones reaping some benefits from the fire. Denny ran the Chamber of Commerce, but also sold ads for the local newspaper, the Bastrop Advertiser.
“I was affected, I hate to say it, in a positive way,” she said. “I’ve never had so many ad sales in life. I had 100 people waiting out the door waiting to talk to me about getting ads in the paper. It was kind of bittersweet.”
Denny sold ads to contractors, but also to restaurants and hotels. Those hospitality businesses were full of not only people who lost their homes, but also federal, state, county and city emergency workers who were brought in to help rebuild.
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