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TCAD appraisal letter worries some citizens

Thursday, August 20, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Retired U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Henry Boothe was surprised and worried when he received a letter from the Travis Central Appraisal District in early August informing him that the city of Austin had filed an appeal of TCAD’s commercial and vacant land values. He was also surprised to learn that some of his property seemed to be zoned commercial, and his deck was designated as vacant land.

After a call to TCAD, Boothe was still confused. But when Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler heard about Boothe from the Austin Monitor on Wednesday, she promised to call him and make sure that the homestead exemption on his house would be extended to the deck.

Boothe and his wife, Maria, have a regular homestead exemption as well as exemptions for being over 65 years old, his veterans exemption and another exemption because Maria is profoundly hard of hearing, according to her husband.

Crigler told the Monitor that her office sent letters to 21,096 Travis County property owners, one for each property that has the state category C1 (commercial) or F1 (vacant land), who would be potentially affected by the city’s challenge. She said her agency is required by state law to send out a notice when there is an appeal of property values that affects landowners. She added that TCAD had received quite a few phone calls on the matter, but she did not have an exact count.

Mayor Steve Adler’s office and the city Law Department received between 75 and 100 calls about the letter, according to the mayor’s spokesman, Jim Wick.

Wick said that most of the callers wanted to know what the letter meant and how it applied to them. Because the TCAD letter included a copy of the city’s Notice of Appeal signed by a member of the Law Department, many people initially directed their questions to that department. However, the Law Department didn’t feel comfortable answering some of the questions they were receiving, such as: Why did the city do this?

So the mayor’s office took over the responsibility for answering those questions. Wick said a lot of the callers were older people who wondered what actions they needed to take, and they were told they didn’t need to do anything.

Nancy Cardenas, constituent services aide to the mayor, said, “When I called folks, they seemed a little confused.” She said she simply explained everything and directed constituents to TCAD if they were trying to appeal their appraisal.

What became apparent during the course of looking into Boothe’s case was that even though he thought he got the TCAD letter because his house had been designated commercial, that was not the case. As Crigler noted, Boothe’s house, which is on Jamie Glen Way, was designated A1 for residential. His property is zoned PUD within the Heritage Hills/Windsor Hills Combined Neighborhood Plan Area.

Boothe said he purchased a small piece of property adjacent to his house from the homeowner’s association in order to build a deck. It is clearly not vacant land now, but it has a separate appraised value of $250. The appraisal district appraised his home at $134,296, but because of exemptions, the assessed value is only $122,761. TCAD estimated that the taxes on his home with the current exemptions would be $631.83, as compared to $2,921.47, the amount a homeowner without those exemptions would have to pay on the same property.

Wick concluded, “We just wanted to let everybody know about this shift in the overall property tax burden from commercial to residential properties over the last 15 years.”

He said the share of property taxes shouldered by residential taxpayers had shifted from 46 percent to 53 percent of the overall burden, while the commercial property tax portion dropped from 21 percent to just under 20 percent.

On May 19, the city released a report that showed undervaluation of commercial properties by an average of 47 percent from 2012 to 2014. A 2006 study by the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts also found that commercial properties in the state of Texas were generally undervalued by 40 percent. The information appeared in The Austin Bulldog in 2010.

City Council voted unanimously in late May to file a petition to challenge the appraisal district’s commercial property valuations. Since then, the city has moved its challenge to district court, allowing TCAD to move ahead with appraisals, which are expected to be released next week.

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