AUSTIN — For decades, the town of Belle Arches has been the place for the state’s most iconic beauty spots.
In recent years, though, the beauty of the Texas landscape has waned as the region’s population has grown and the state has added hundreds of new housing units.
Now, the community’s beauty is on the decline, and a group of residents has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the town has been deprived of a tax break and lost jobs.
The lawsuit filed Thursday seeks $20 million in damages, which could be distributed among the city and its residents.
Belle Arcs residents who are eligible for the tax break claim that Belle Arces, which lies within the state of Texas, has been unable to pay the state for the privilege of hosting the beauty spot on its golf course and golf courses.
A lawsuit by the Belle Arcks residents, known as the Belle River Trust, is part of a growing trend of lawsuits against cities, counties and local governments seeking relief from their tax breaks and tax-increment financing mandates, said John McDonough, an attorney with the nonprofit Legal Momentum.
The Tax Court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit was “not just an outlier,” McDonrough said, “but one of the largest tax-related decisions the court has made since it began issuing rulings on the constitutionality of federal tax law in 1978.”
The lawsuit comes at a time when Texas has seen a surge in the number of people moving to the state and a growing number of cities seeking to cut taxes.
Last year, the Lone Star State reported the highest number of millionaires in the nation, at nearly $20 billion.
The latest federal Census figures show that there are more than 6,300 new residents a day, and the population has been growing rapidly.
The number of residents in the state is expected to hit 8 million in 2022, a figure McDonugh said is higher than at any time since World War II.
“The number of new residents is not necessarily correlated with the number that is being taxed, but there’s definitely a growing population that is coming to Texas and wanting to live here,” McDoough said.
“It’s a lot of folks that are paying a lot more than they are getting from the state.
And the problem with that is that, at the same time, we’ve seen a huge influx of millionaires.”
The Belle Archers have been seeking relief since the late 1990s, when they first applied to have the Belle City Council grant them a tax exemption for a number of properties in the town.
In 2010, the city council denied the request.
But a few years later, in 2012, the council granted Belle Arks an exemption for the resort, which was built in 1929.
In 2017, the county awarded the resort a $2.6 million tax break.
The tax break has been a fixture at Belle Araches golf course, and McDonaugh said the resort’s owner, Tony Epples, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the golf course’s tax status.
“What we do know is that Tony Epps is not responsible for the golfing facilities in Belle Archer, the golf courses in Belle Acher or any of the properties,” Mcdonough said in a statement.
“As we have previously reported, Tony has consistently denied any connection to any golf facilities in the community, and we are confident that he will fully comply with the tax exemption and not make any false claims about his role in the development of Belle Achers golf course.”
Eppels attorney, Bill Schreier, denied any involvement in the golf facilities.
“Tony Eppls son, Andrew, has always maintained that the golf and hotel property is a privately owned piece of land,” Schreer said in an emailed statement.
The case also stems from a dispute between the city of Belle Springs and the town’s owners.
In 2011, Belle Springs sued the city, claiming that it was not the owner of the resort and had no control over it.
In 2014, a federal judge ruled in favor of the city.
Belle Springs’ lawsuit against the city is currently pending in federal district court in Austin.
The judge in the case ordered the city to pay $8.5 million in restitution to the residents.
The court also ordered the City Council to pay Belle Arcess $10 million in tax exemptions, as well as $5 million each for its property tax, property tax credits and a $250,000 cash payment to the town from the town, McDonogh said.
McDonoug said the city has until Feb. 21 to file a response.
“We’re trying to determine whether the City of Belle is actually entitled to a full refund, or if it is simply being misled,” McDough said, adding that it would be “difficult” to determine the amount of damages due to Belle Arades.
In an email to the