Cities, counties, and school districts set tax rates, but every county has an appraisal district that reappraises property. The amount a homeowner pays is based on that appraisal.
Citizens often lobby their taxing districts or the state legislature for property tax relief, but the county appraisal districts have a significant impact on property tax bills through the appraisal process. And the boards of directors over appraisal districts are unelected.
Appraisal Increases & Protests
The DFW metroplex is one of the fastest-growing areas in the state. Housing demand is high.
In Tarrant County, the tax appraisals have increased by 75 percent from 2009-2019. One city in Tarrant County, Mansfield, saw property appraisal values increase by nearly 89 percent in that same period.
Dallas County saw a 58 percent increase in value over the last decade. Richardson is a representative city in Dallas County where property owners saw an average increase in value of 59 percent over ten years.
By comparison, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationwide housing prices are about 20 percent higher than they were in 2009.
According to the Texas Comptroller’s office, the appraised value of a homestead may increase ten percent annually or until the appraised value is equal to the market value.
Each appraisal district must provide taxpayers with an appeal or protest process. The state legislature in its most recent session mandated that appraisal districts provide updated information to taxpayers about available exemptions and available options to protest appraisals.
In Tarrant County, the appraisal district reported that 148,067 protests were filed in 2018. That is up 113 percent from 2013. Out of the protests filed in 2018, about 52 percent had their appraisal lowered.
Huffman said he spent about two or three hours preparing for the protest hearing before the Tarrant Appraisal Review Board by trying to find the most comparable properties in the MLS system used by realtors.
He was disappointed that the board gave the evidence and data he presented very little weight. At the end of the hearing, Huffman basically received a “freezing” of his home value for a year, even though he thinks that valuation is still unfairly high based on comparable properties.
Jennifer White has lived in Tarrant County for 14 years and has seen her appraisals go up every year. The market value of her home, according to the appraisal district, jumped a whopping $160,000 in one year.
White has utilized the online protest system and said that was much easier than the in-person meeting. While she has seen some success in reducing her home’s appraisals, she still sees the system as unfair.
“To me, it seems like they are grabbing numbers, raising the percentage, and not looking at market data specific to my house. It puts the burden on the consumer to protest and prove the value,” White said.
In 2019, she chose to join a group represented by real estate broker, Chandler Crouch, who has been an advocate for appraisal reform. He succeeded in getting the market value of her home reduced by $7000.
Governance of Appraisal Districts & Opportunities for Reform
Appraisal districts are governed by a board of directors that is elected by the taxing entities, such as counties, cities, and school districts within the county. The board then hires a chief appraiser, who in turn hires staff appraisers to conduct the residential property appraisals.
In electing the appraisal district board of directors, each taxing entity receives a certain number of votes based on its share of the taxable property in the county.
In Tarrant County, the city of Fort Worth has the largest number of votes for board members at 597. Recently, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court re-nominated the five sitting members of the board of the Tarrant Appraisal District.
When asked how those nominees are chosen, the only response the county provided to The Texan was “Historically, if individuals have proven to be effective, the Commissioners Court has considered reappointing them.”
The cities of Colleyville, Keller, and Southlake have nominated a new member to the TAD Board of Directors, Rich DeOtte.
DeOtte, a civil engineer, is seeking to serve on the appraisal board because he sees a problem with the residential property appraisals. “I have concerns that the appraisals need to be realistic, not just formulaic.”
Currently, the Tarrant Appraisal District conducts its appraisals based on data entered into a computer-assisted mass appraisal (CAMA) system. According to the appraisal district’s website, the system utilizes property-specific data and sales data to calculate appraisals.
Yet the number of appraisal protests keeps increasing.
“Citizens are frustrated with the process. There needs to be a closer look at the appraisal process; the appraisal district has access to information that the property owner doesn’t have, and that’s not fair,” DeOtte added.
During the 86th Texas Legislature, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) introduced the “Appraisal District Reform Act” that would have implemented several reforms.
It placed limits on employees of appraisal districts having conflicts of interest and would also have required the cosmetic nature of the property to be included in the appraisal. The bill did not pass, however, and the next opportunity to revisit it will occur when the next regular session of the Texas Legislature begins in January 2021.
Citizens interested in influencing the appraisal process have several layers to work through for accountability.
In Tarrant County, for example, the local taxing entities must cast their vote for the Tarrant Appraisal District board of directors by December 15. Citizens who want to see a change to the appraisal system can seek to influence who is appointed to the appraisal board of directors by contacting their city councils, county commissioners, and school boards.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.