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Travis County appraisal protests delay certifying tax rolls

Friday, July 31, 2009 by Austin Monitor

In what Chief Appraiser Patrick Brown called “an unfortunate mistake,” Travis Central Appraisal District has erroneously certified the tax rolls for some 140 Travis County taxing entities. In fact, property owners are protesting too many appraisals to certify the results.


In a letter to Mayor Lee Leffingwell on Wednesday, Brown asked him to “disregard” the tax roll, because it did not meet the requirement that at least 90 percent of the roll’s value not be under protest. Currently, only 85 percent of the value of the tax roll is not under protest. Brown told Leffingwell that he estimated the remaining five percent would be out of appeals by “late August.” Brown did say that he believes the estimates are accurate. 


“It’s largely due to the fact that we have a large number of protests this year,” Brown told In Fact Daily. “The last couple years we’ve had around 60,000 protests… this year we have 90,000 protests.” Brown said, “We are needing an additional $3.8 billion to be not under protest, and because we’re dealing with the smaller-priced assets at this point in time it’s going to take an additional month to work through that level of properties.”


Because most of the gap is made up of smaller residential properties, “we’ve had to process more than ever before in order to get to the 90 percent.” Normally, he said the district schedules protests in descending order of value. “We start out with Samsung, Highland Mall and Frost Bank Tower—$100 million assets, then we quickly rotate into $15-$20 million assets. By the time we certify we’re at $300,000 assets.”


“Part of what we do is we project when that certification level is going to be reached,” he told In Fact Daily. When TCAD made the calculation for the last couple days, “we inadvertently ran a query for properties that had been scheduled but hadn’t been heard yet. And so our calculation was amiss and we didn’t realize that until Tuesday.”


He said he hasn’t heard from the mayor directly but “a lot of the people I generally deal with at the larger districts are in the budget office, and, of course,  they’re disappointed. But its one of those things where it is what it is. I don’t think there’s anything we could’ve done differently to make us get that 90 percent sooner.”


He said many of the appraisers are working late nights – until 6 or 7pm and Brown himself was just leaving the office at 8pm when In Fact Daily called. “We’ve got a lot of people working 11 and 12 hour days,” he said, adding that TCAD is considering working some protests on Saturdays.


Travis County Auditor Susan Spataro informed Commissioners Court on Tuesday of a phenomena new to her. “For the first time this year, I actually got in my mailbox people who are specializing to help you appeal your taxes,” she said. Brown said such third party agents have made it much easier for people to protest their appeals. The agents typically take up to 50 percent of the amount they are able to save the homeowner. When asked whether a proliferation of such services has impacted the process, Brown said, “When I first entered the business 15 years ago, TCAD had 28,000 protests that year. Agents’ protests alone this year were 40,000, so there’s been sort of a cottage industry that’s been created by these property tax agents.”

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