Friday, February 14, 2020 by Jo Clifton

TCAD appraisal decision draws Realtors’ ire

On Wednesday, Marya Crigler, chief appraiser for the Travis Central Appraisal District, told representatives of nine local school districts that TCAD would not be reappraising most residential properties this year. That means the school districts, as well as Travis County, Austin and other cities in the county, will not be getting updated information about residential property except in the case of new homes, according to TCAD spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez. School districts in particular rely on increased property values to balance their budgets.

Crigler laid the blame for TCAD’s inability to set new values in 2020 at the feet of the Austin Board of Realtors. ABoR reacted furiously to Crigler’s decision, and at least one attorney who has fought with TCAD over its procedures says Crigler’s decision is illegal.

Last May, after learning that TCAD had access to the database of sales information and properties, ABoR notified the appraisal district that it must stop the unauthorized use of the data.

ABoR demanded that TCAD remove and destroy all copies of portions of the database and information. In December, KXAN reported that the settlement agreement had been reached, but terms of the settlement were not announced.

ABoR reacted angrily to Crigler’s comments Thursday, releasing a statement that began, “Travis Central Appraisal District’s claims that they don’t have the ability to reappraise residential property accurately are misleading. Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) obtains sales price data that homeowners provide willingly. TCAD can create statistically sound models for the bulk appraisal of residential property using the rendered data they collect.”

Martinez told the Austin Monitor on Thursday that Crigler met with the school districts because they set their budgets in April, several months before the city and the county set theirs. In addition, school districts are almost entirely dependent on property tax revenue, and AISD, for example, is required to send a substantial amount of that revenue to the state each year to comply with the state’s complex “Robin Hood” plan.

Nicole Conley, chief of business and operations for AISD, told the Monitor via email, “The Austin ISD Budget and Finance Department staff is looking at the methodology to determine what effect this decision may have on our operating and debt budgets. Over the years, we have worked to ensure that our legislature recognizes the increasing effects of Robin Hood on Austin taxpayers. We greatly understand the need for property tax relief. Though we understand why the Austin Board of Realtors has taken such measures, we also realize this could reduce revenue growth for local school districts. It could also potentially shift more funding burden to the state, and create more instability in public education funding.”

As for getting information from homebuyers voluntarily, Martinez said, “Last month we mailed out 22,000 questionnaires to Travis County property owners about their recent purchase of property and only got 2,300 back.” Some of the answers they received were less than helpful. Martinez said one new homeowner reported that “they paid $6 and gave a sexual favor” for their new home. “So we’re put in a position where we don’t have data that we need to do our job,” she said. “In the past we’ve been able to obtain data from about 98 percent (of sales) but the past year we’ve only been able to obtain data from 15 percent,” which means that TCAD is not getting enough data to meet the industry standard the agency believes is required.

ABoR still argues that the cease-and-desist order “should have no impact on TCAD’s ability to reappraise homes. It did so for many years without use of … proprietary data.”

Martinez said the district still has 64 appraisers working full time. They go out and check to make sure the information TCAD has on a property is accurate. She said she wanted to make sure that property owners understood that even with the district not doing new appraisals, the assessed value of many properties could increase by 10 percent because that’s what the law allows. In addition, it is the taxing entities – the school districts, the cities in the county – that will decide on the tax rate, and taxes inevitably go up each year.

ABoR concluded its statement by saying, “Our mission is to make Central Texas a better place by protecting the rights of property owners. The Austin Board of Realtors is a strong supporter of our local school districts, and we recognize that schools are critical to our community’s success. It’s unfortunate that TCAD is threatening to stop the reappraisal process at the expense of our schools.”

Attorney Bill Aleshire, who has sued TCAD on several occasions, also wrote to the TCAD Board of Directors, which is scheduled to meet next week. According to Aleshire, the frequency of reappraisals done in Travis County is established by a plan and by law, changes to that plan require notice to each taxing entity, who have their own say in this policy, and should have been done by Sept. 15, 2018, to change the 2020 plan.

Aleshire said Crigler lacks the authority to make the decision she has announced, “and even the TCAD board lacks authority to make this change in the appraisal plan at this late date in the 2020 appraisal process.”

According to Aleshire, Crigler’s decision “could really backfire, especially for state funding of school districts in Travis County, not just AISD. Here’s how: This is a year when the State Comptroller audits TCAD’s values to see if they are in line with the market. If TCAD leaves the residential values the same as last year, when the market value of homes has actually gone up (estimates of 6-7 percent), TCAD runs the risk of failing the Comptroller’s audit. State financing of our schools is based, in part, on verification that TCAD has properly appraised the market value of property each year.”

Aleshire also worries that if existing homes are not reappraised in 2020, there could be a huge jump in property values in 2021. This seems like a story that will have more chapters before it’s over.

(Editor’s note: Aleshire is currently representing Protax in a suit against TCAD, as we reported earlier this week.)

Photo of TCAD’s Marya Crigler courtesy of ATXN.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

AISD: Austin's largest school district, AISD is the Austin Independent School District.

Austin Board of Realtors: The Austin Board of Realtors is an 8600-member organization for real estate agents in the city. It maintains the city's Member Listing Service (MLS) database. ABoR is also a charter member of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation. As such, they have donated CoTMF. CoTMF is the parent organization of the Austin Monitor.

Travis Central Appraisal District: The tax appraisal district for Travis County.

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