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Travis Commissioners may petition TCAD to level tax assessments

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

The Travis County Commissioner’s Court held a rare Monday meeting to discuss filing a petition with the Travis Central Appraisal District in response to the public’s anger over a steep rise in residential property taxes.


The petition would address the low property tax valuations assigned to commercial properties, which seems to place an unfair financial burden on homeowners and is forcing people to move out of Austin.


Attending the meeting along with a group of tax protesters was Brigid Shea, Democratic nominee for Pct. 2 Commissioner. She said the high number of residents moving out of the city is leading to a drop in enrollment in city schools. People moving farther out from the city could also create more commuter traffic and pollution on the highways, she said.


TCAD said residential valuations have increased an average of 15 percent since last year, due to a high demand for property within the city limits.


Property tax reform campaigners Real Values for Texas say residential properties are valued at 90-95 percent of their market value, but commercial properties are valued at 55-60 percent. For example, Real Values said the Burleson Business Park sold for $26.1 million in 2012 and was appraised at only $12.7 million in 2013. The lower the appraisal rate, the lower the property tax dollar amount.


Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant said he is also concerned.


The appraisal district has limited litigation funds, Elfant said, and commercial properties can afford to get high-priced lawyers who know how to pull the right levers to get lower property taxes.


Elfant said since Texas is a non-sales price disclosure state, commercial property owners do not have to say what the sale price of their properties are and TCAD doesn’t then have the right tools to correctly appraise the proper value.


Texas does not require sellers to provide information on real estate transactions to state and local government agencies, such as TCAD. Instead, sellers are asked to voluntarily self-disclose. However, there has been a public push for local governments to file petitions with TCAD to get legislative attention for reform of the state’s property tax laws.


Shea sent an email out last week asking citizens to sit in the session, and hold signs to show support for the petition. Although supporters could not bring large signs into the courtroom, they wrote slogans like “We pay because they don’t” and “Make all pay their fair share” on smaller sheets of paper. The court did not take any public testimony.


“This is a very courageous action by the Commissioners Court today and I really applaud them,” Shea said. “We thought if people brought signs they could at least voice their opinion even if they didn’t get to verbally testify.”


The Commissioners did not vote on the petition Monday. Instead, there will be a vote June 17, the final deadline for Travis County to take action. County Judge Sam Biscoe said public comment will be taken when the issue comes up again.


Spurred to action by the county proceedings, City Council Member Kathie Tovo is sponsoring three resolutions for the upcoming June 12 Council agenda to discuss what measures Austin can take to get more legislative attention on the issue and to eliminate a loophole for commercial properties getting city incentives.

(This story has been corrected due to factual errors in the orignal.)


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