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Eight school districts issue warning to TCAD

Thursday, February 20, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Eight school districts that depend on the Travis Central Appraisal District to provide them with accurate property values are facing a serious loss of revenue as a result of a decision by TCAD’s chief appraiser not to reappraise residential properties this year. The school districts have notified TCAD’s board of directors that they will be considering “all available legal options” if the district does not quickly resolve the situation.

The letter, delivered during TCAD’s board meeting Wednesday, asked, “Where in state statute does the Chief Appraiser have the unilateral authority to freeze appraisals from one year to the next, thus arbitrarily assigning the growth, with no legal basis to support the values for the new year?”

With Eanes ISD in the lead, Dripping Springs, Elgin, Lake Travis, Leander, Marble Falls, Pflugerville, and Round Rock independent school districts told the board they were “shocked and dismayed” when Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler told them for the first time last week that her agency could not provide new appraisals because they could no longer use data from the Austin Board of Realtors.

Austin ISD did not participate and its spokesperson did not offer an explanation.

Eanes ISD Superintendent Tom Leonard pointed out that ABoR had sent a cease-and-desist letter to TCAD last May. At that point, TCAD should have come up with a Plan B for getting the information. “I don’t know who’s right or wrong between TCAD and the Realtors. … We need the assessor to provide accurate assessments.”

Leonard said failing to raise residential values – which generally go up about 7 percent a year in his district – will mean a “$2 million-$3 million hit” on the maintenance and operations budget, which Eanes uses to pay its staff. Leonard’s district is looking at the possibility of losing about 40 staff members if nothing changes, he said. The situation is made more complicated by the passage of House Bill 3, which affects school districts but not cities and counties.

Leonard said his district, as well as others, must make decisions in March and April about staffing because if they are not going to renew teachers’ contracts they need to notify the teachers during that time period.

“The assessor is making a statement that they can’t get the data to do accurate assessments … so they’re going to use old data – which is going to give them inaccurate assessments … I don’t get the logic,” Leonard said. He added that other entities are using statistical values to come up with property valuations and that the state comptroller has all the MLS data but evidently won’t release it to TCAD.

Crigler released the following statement after being contacted by the Austin Monitor: “We understand the concerns that the school districts have over the impact that this situation will have on their funding. That is exactly why we notified them of this issue two months before our estimate of taxable value deadline. We are committed to working with all of our taxing entities to find a solution to this situation that provides us with the market data we need to do our job.”

TCAD spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said late Wednesday that the TCAD board would be having another meeting next Thursday, Feb. 27. At that meeting, she said, lawyers for the appraisal district would release a comprehensive response to the letter from the school districts.

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