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City may seek new trial in TCAD case

Monday, November 30, 2015 by Jo Clifton

At a special called meeting this Thursday, City Council will consider a resolution that would apparently direct the city’s attorneys to file a motion for new trial in the city’s lawsuit against the Travis Central Appraisal District over the alleged inaccuracy of appraisals on commercial property. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who will be in charge of the meeting in the absence of Mayor Steve Adler, is the chief sponsor of the resolution. (Adler and Council Member Leslie Pool will be in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.) Adler and Council members Don Zimmerman and Ann Kitchen are co-sponsors, so the resolution should pass handily. District Judge Tim Sulak dismissed the city’s initial lawsuit on Nov. 6, disposing of all issues, and indicated that he expected an appeal. It seems highly unlikely that he would grant a motion for new trial given the time he spent detailing the reasons for his ruling. However, Jason Stanford, spokesman for Adler, said the mayor believes the right thing for the city to do is to file a motion for new trial. In their draft resolution, Council members state, “the Austin City Council’s goal through this action is to enable appraisal districts to perform their jobs better … (and the Council) believes it is in the unfortunate position of having to use litigation, a tool of last resort, due to years of legislative inaction and a growing public perception of a lack of fairness in the appraisal system.” They also assert that they have support from “all corners of the state, including elected officials in counties both blue and red, chief appraisers in counties both big and small, and newspaper editorial boards in other big cities.” Attorney Bill Aleshire, one of several lawyers representing commercial property owners, told the Austin Monitor in an email that the motion for rehearing “will stall the appeal, which had a 30-day deadline, to 90 days after the November 6 final judgment (February 4th).” Aleshire asked, “Why continue trying to legislate changes to the property tax system in court, when the city was told in clear terms by Judge Sulak that they don’t have standing to challenge the constitutionality of laws the appraisal district, not the city is in charge of implementing? The case law on the city’s lack of standing to challenge the tax appraisal statutes is crystal clear.” He concluded, “Why are they stalling the inevitable appeal?”

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