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TCAD not giving taxpayers timely hearings

Friday, November 16, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Faced with an unprecedented number of property tax protests, the Travis Central Appraisal District is scheduling formal hearings through the month of December – months after the appraisal roll was certified and tax bills set.

Attorney Bill Aleshire told the Austin Monitor that there were 8,881 Travis County properties on which appraisal protests were filed in May that had not yet had their hearings as of this week. “The market value of those accounts is $5.4 billion,” he said.

Aleshire, who has requested though not received a hearing about the valuation of his own property, said Thursday, “They are not maximizing their efforts to give timely hearings to people who filed timely protests. That’s the bottom line and they are deliberately trying to deny a fair opportunity for hearings and fair hearings.”

TCAD has also stopped scheduling informal hearings, which in the past were used to reach settlements on the majority of protests.

An employee of ProTax, one of the tax preparation companies suing TCAD, said, “Normally we settle about 90 percent of our hearings informally.”

Holding formal hearings costs Travis County taxpayers more than having the appraiser meet with the taxpayer to try to work things out. Aleshire observed that members of Appraisal Review Board panels receive $100 per day for their work.

Taxpayers filed a record 141,000 protests this year, up from 127,000 last year.  TCAD Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler told the Monitor Thursday that her agency’s panels were still holding formal hearings, but “they might not get every one done” by the end of December.

The situation leaves protesting taxpayers who have not received a final notice of appraised value with a difficult choice.

Taxpayers who protested and have not had a hearing or heard the results of the hearing have two choices: They can pay taxes by the end of December on an amount they consider unfair and subtract that amount (up to $10,000) from their federal income tax, or they can delay payment until January and forgo the option of the deduction, notes Aleshire.

The situation is even worse for taxpayers who pay their taxes through their mortgage companies. Aleshire said the mortgage company would go ahead and pay taxes based on the original appraisal and then set the mortgage payment for the following year based, in part, on the tax bill. If the appraisal district decides the bill is too high, the taxpayer will get a refund at some point, but that will not help with the problem of the increased mortgage payment for 2019.

In past years, the appraisal review board panels were finished with most of their work in time for certification of the tax rolls toward the end of July. This year, 20 TCAD panels held formal hearings at the Travis County Exposition Center from late June through July 13. Crigler said TCAD certified tax rolls on July 14 even though it had not completed all of the protest hearings.

She said the district uses a mathematical formula to certify the tax roll. Once TCAD believes it has resolved cases on 95 percent of the value of all the properties, it is allowed to certify the rolls even if many individual cases are still pending.

TCAD was not able to keep holding hearings at the Expo Center and moved all of its hearings back to the TCAD offices where there is space for up to 10 panels to operate at one time, Crigler said. Even so, only five to seven panels are currently operating at the TCAD office and those are not scheduled every day. She explained that the number of panels operating at one time is limited by the availability of Appraisal Review Board members and that “my staff has to do all the discovery work and the reinspections to prepare for next year,” which limits their time in the office.

Harvey Kronberg, editor and publisher of the Quorum Report, which chronicles legislative activities large and small, is one of the property owners who has not gotten a hearing on his protest. As a veteran observer of the Texas Legislature, Kronberg told the Monitor, “Most of these local control arguments that take place in the Legislature originate out of Austin and it’s just like an invitation – putting a bull’s-eye on the chin of the appraisal district for them to have botched it so badly.”

Aleshire has filed suit against TCAD over allegations that it has failed to properly schedule hearings for appraisers at two companies that represent property owners at hearings.

A spokesperson for the Travis County Tax Office said Thursday that all tax bills had been mailed out as of Wednesday. Taxpayers may view their bills online at the tax office website.

Photo courtesy of the Travis Central Appraisal District.

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