The motion to establish a scope for the audit passed 3-2 on Friday, June 5, with members Mike O’Donnell and Kathryn Wilemon voting against it.
Rich DeOtte, who joined the board of directors in January, presented the motion for an audit to the board. He gathered information on the number of protests in Tarrant County, along with other large counties in the state.
He found that Tarrant County had a 264.9 percent increase in protests between 2015 and 2019, with over 208,000 protests in 2019. Dallas County was next with an increase of 49.7 percent in protests over the same period.
DeOtte would like to know why there has been such a spike in protests by property owners in Tarrant County over the last few years and thus suggested the audit.
Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and whose district takes in part of Tarrant County, is also very concerned.
Nelson issued a letter on April 30 to Mike O’Donnell, chair of the TAD board of directors.
“On behalf of the constituents I represent in Tarrant County, I would request that the Board of Directors investigate the reasons for such a large increase —and to specifically look into whether software used by the district is playing a role. Troubles with the software were cited in a recent audit, and I would be interested to know what steps have been taken to address the issues.”
In December 2016, Weaver and Tidwell, LLP conducted an independent verification of the new appraisal software, Aumentum, implemented by TAD in 2014. The report noted several issues with the system’s implementation and testing, noting that “new and ongoing issues affecting functions critical to taxing entities processes have remained unsolved for a period of up to two years” after the software “went live.”
The Senate Committee on Finance held an interim hearing on February 25 and heard testimony about the issue of property appraisals and protests.
“We’ve got to fix this appraisal portion if we are going to have real property tax reform,” Nelson stated at the Finance Committee hearing.
The Office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts conducts reviews of appraisal districts every two years, Korry Castillo of the comptroller’s office explained to the committee. The review reports on the governance, taxpayer assistance, operating procedures and appraisal standards, and procedure and methodology of appraisal districts.
However, as Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), who also sits on the Senate Finance Committee pointed out, even if the report reveals a clear issue (such as the high number of protests in Tarrant County), the comptroller’s office has no directive from the legislature to take action on that issue.
“How is it so much worse in Tarrant County than the other big counties?” Hancock asked rhetorically. “Until we probe, we’ll never know.”
Tarrant County Chief Appraiser Jeff Law pointed out to the TAD board that the protest numbers are down in 2020. 114,000 accounts were in the appraisal review system, but about 19,000 were resolved without a hearing.
Of the remaining 95,000 protests, Law said 68,560 were filed by property tax agents, and 27,060 were filed by non-agents.
DeOtte acknowledged the reduction in protests for 2020, but believes that is largely due to the fact that many property owners didn’t see an increase in appraisal values this year.
In Tarrant County, the tax appraisals have increased by 75 percent from 2009-2019. But in 2020, only about one-third of property values were raised.
“The main reason people protest is because they think they are getting gouged. If not as many people feel that way, then they are just not going to protest,” DeOtte told the board.
One of the inequities people may see in their property appraisals is that TAD has designated a large percentage of the total appraised value to the land portion and a small percentage to the improvement, or house, value. State law requires that the appraisal be divided between land and improvement.
Chandler Crouch, a real estate broker and property tax agent in Tarrant County, said that having TAD place very little value on the home can put a property owner in a sticky spot when trying to protest an appraisal.
“If you have repair issues to argue on your home, then you don’t have much wiggle room,” Crouch told The Texan.
If it were up to him, he would remove the separation of the improvement from the land that is required by state law.
“Separating the improvement value from the land is a fiction,” he said. “It’s impossible to consider the value of a house when it’s not on the land.”
Law told the board that TAD tries to keep land values the same in an area and so adjustments are made to the improvement.
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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.