Lyleann McClellan-Thee / Conexión San Ángelo, contributor

SAN ANGELO – Brad Wells of the Tom Green County Appraisal Office was the guest speaker at the January 9th meeting of the San Angelo TEA Party.  He started with an overview of the property tax system.  On January 1st his office assesses values based on available prior-year sales information.   Notices are sent to taxpayers in May or June, who then have a 30-day window during which to file a disagreement. Mr. Well's immediate supervisor Chief Appraiser, Bill Benson, determines the total taxable value for each jurisdiction, then presents the information to the local taxing jurisdictions (City, County and School District), who then develop budgets and set tax rates by September 10th.  The Appraisal office applies these tax rates to finalized values and sends bills to taxpayers.  

The website Comptroller.Texas.Gov states, “Texas has no state property tax. The Comptroller's office does not collect property tax or set tax rates.”  According to Mr. Wells, those are the only property tax functions the State does not dictate, as he pointed to a two-inch thick manual of State directives.  Further, every time the Legislature attempts tax reform, the situation only gets worse with more special carve-outs for lobbyists, more complicated rules and more unfunded mandates for our cities, counties and schools.  Mr. Wells recalled an amusing incident in the aftermath of legislative action that properties were to be appraised at 95% of market value. A local state representative, who shall remain nameless, was the first to march into the Tom Green County Appraisal Office upset at the higher appraisal of his property. He was reminded this was the direct result of what he and his colleagues had enacted.  Mr. Wells went on to explain that the State Comptroller's office tests areas for compliance and withholds public school funds as punishment.   

The mission statement of the Tom Green County Appraisal District taken from its website reads in part, “ to appraise all property in the Tom Green County Appraisal District at market value equally and uniformly and communicate that value annually to each taxpayer.”  However, because of current law, properties cannot be appraised at market values but must be appraised at median (average) values.  Texas is a non-disclosure state, meaning that sales information is not made public.  Consequently, some taxpayers pay more and some pay less property tax even though the properties are similar.  This is also something that could be rectified by the Legislature if it so desired.  

The current property tax system has many flaws and is far from being fair and impartial.  While Mr. Wells commended attendees for wanting to be involved and informed, he stressed it will take thousands of people approaching their state representatives to effect property tax reform.   He further mused, “Is it going to take everybody refusing to pay property tax to get real property tax reform legislation?”

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