Rising valuations

Hays County Appraisal District sees record number of protests

Rising property values and a record number of protests are causing heartburn for residents, highlighting a statewide discussion on the property appraisal system.

For Buda resident Charlie Thompson, his land valuation where his home is built skyrocketed 65% and a protest before the Hays Central Appraisal District means his slightly reduced valuation will only save him some $40 this year over what was proposed.

“I understand that the taxing districts are obligated to get the appraisal at market value because that’s what the state requires,” Thompson said. “But a 65% increase just doesn’t seem reasonable which to me shows some flaws in the system.”

Thompson said if his property value increased by some 30% he would understand based on the market value of the neighboring homes in his subdivision. Living on a fixed income as a retired resident, rising appraisals could have a negative economic impact on people, he said.

“This isn’t downtown Austin, it’s Hays County,” Thompson said. “To me, it’s a reflection of inconsistent appraisals year after year.”

The work of the appraisal district is a strenuous task, especially when a limited staff is responsible for evaluating the properties of the entire county.

HCAD Chief Appraiser Laura Raven said her staff is working hard to assess a record number of properties in the county during the highest growth periods in its history.

“The number of protests has gotten high, so we ask people to specifically outline their concerns and highlight the issues we can’t see that would affect market value,” Raven said. “We did have a  record number of protests, but we have record properties and people living here.”

This year, the district received 21,620 protests compared to 18,199 in 2018. In 2014, the number of protests hit 9,635, less than half of the protests this year.

Although the district did have a record number of protests, the percent increase was less than the previous two years.

The district also has tight deadlines to make, as issued by the state, which says 95% of a county’s appraisals must be completed and not under protest by July 20. This gives all taxing jurisdictions within the county time to set their tax rate during budget season. Property valuations are used by school districts, cities, counties, emergency service districts and more to set their tax rates to support their budgets.

Every other year, the Texas Comptroller’s Office will audit the district’s  processes.

Appraisal districts assign value to large properties at a time, meaning a neighborhood could be evaluated together. Raven said this is why it is important for protestors to outline their specific objections to the district.

Some real estate and financial experts have criticized the appraisal districts, calling it an under-staffed and under-resourced system. One of these is Rahul Patel, managing partner of Patel Gaines, a Texas-based law firm that specializes in property taxes.

Texans pay some of the highest property taxes in the country and, with no state income tax, cities, counties and school districts do not have an incentive to reduce tax rates because they need revenues.

Patel argues it’s a flawed system that pushes the cost of living and doing business in the state higher, leaving few alternatives for property owners.

In 2018, more than 100,000 property owners in Bexar County protested their evaluations after the district raised values an average of 9%.

In Harris County, each appraiser had to place a value on about 5,500 parcels of land each year.

In a Houston Chronicle opinion piece, Patel said the districts are severely understaffed.

“That is an impossible volume of work,” he said. “Establishing a realistic ratio of properties per appraiser would be a useful step towards increased appraisal accuracy.”

Subsequently, Patel said an inaccurate appraisal is a direct result of the workload of an appraiser. If protested, a property owner could reduce the appraised value, pay the taxes or sue the district.

“Essentially, you fund the appraisal district’s budget through your taxes and pay it again to prove it when they overvalue your property,” he said. “Seems like a stacked deck, doesn’t it?”

But those changes would need to be managed by the state, not the individual district. Until then, districts across the state must work with the resources they have.

Raven said each year the district is trying to find the best ways for property owners and staff to get as much information processed to help property owners through the protest process.

“I welcome all comments, critiques and suggestions from property owners regarding their experiences with the district,” Raven said. “That input is important to me and can drive change.”

For Thompson, his protest did not swing in his favor, making him sympathetic to other people in his situation.

“Show me my evaluation from last year and tell me it went up 65% because I still don’t have an answer for that,” he said. “I’m disappointed and I think this sheds light on some inconsistencies with accuracy.”

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