The Tarrant Appraisal District came under scrutiny Wednesday before members of a Texas Senate panel over some matters that could have a dramatic impact on local taxpayers this year.
Members of the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform & Relief probed TAD Chief Appraisal Jeff Law during a session at the University of Texas at Arlington that was part of a series of statewide meetings to hear testimony about rising property taxes and the need for taxpayer relief.
Some committee members expressed dismay over reports regarding property tax appraisal problems and a lawsuit that may be hindering taxpayer rights. Law was invited to address the panel along with Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright and officials from the Dallas Central Appraisal District.
Law told the committee that the appraisal district has been struggling with the transition from an antiquated to a new software system since 2014. The changeover has resulted in various problems, including late appraisal notices and undervalued property in 2015.
“The problems as not systemic to the appraisal district,” Law said. ”It was a problem with the software conversion. Everything was done that needed to be done.”
Law said the problems associated with the software conversion has been fixed but acknowledged that taxpayers will continue to feel the ripple effect. Due to the problems, taxpayers can expect to be hit with valuation increases of about 14 percent.
Because of the software problems, TAD appraisers were forced last year to rely on historic data rather than current market information, resulting in most property values increasing only 5 percent.
The increase from 5 to 14 percent will be a wallop to many property owners but is not completely out of line with escalating real estate prices that are driving up property values. Kenneth Nolan, chief appraiser for the Dallas appraisal district, said some property owners there will see increases of up to 13 percent.
Law said the appraisal district is prepared for an onslaught of protests.
“We will be working on weekends, holding hearings on weekends,” Law said.
Last year’s undervalued property assessments also threatened state aid to Tarrant County school districts. Since the TAD property value estimates failed to match the values of the Texas Comptroller that determine school funding, the districts collectively stood to lose millions.
The comptroller‘s office recently resolved the problem by granting a two-year grace period to rectify assessments.
Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Bettencourt R-Houston also questioned TAD’s withholding of historic data for property protests due to a Travis County lawsuit when other appraisal districts have found a way to make that information available to the public.
Third-party vendors, who supply the data, so far have prevailed in their argument that the data is proprietary and should not be released.
“Are you trying to get the parties together?,” Bettencourt asked Law, who responded that a meeting was in the process of being arranged.
TAD faced a further assault before the committee, when Gary Losada, a Tarrant Appraisal Review Board member and former chair, said the appraisal district is broken and makes it difficult for property owners to obtain information or protest their values.
“The abuses or the appraisal district are rampant and appraisals are arbitrary,” he said.
Committee members expressed astonishment at the criticism coming from an appraisal review board member who operates within the system.
The committee heard from dozens of area residents and representatives of taxing entities regarding taxation. Property taxes increasing on average of three times faster than household income is “unsustainable,” Bettencourt said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who created this committee, attended the meeting to push his agenda of tax relief for homeowners.
“If we don’t get this under control. People cannot afford to stay in their houses and afford their homes,” he said.
He urged county judges, mayors, school superintendents and other elected officials to ignore the advise of their consultants and lobbyists about standing firm on their budgets and spending.
“We’ve got to get spending under control,” Patrick said. “Tax relief is what we need and deserve and have needed for a long time.”