Otto authors appraisal reform package
Big Thicket Messenger - April 2007
-Representative John Otto (R-Dayton) filed a package of bills recently aimed at empowering the Texas taxpayers by addressing changes in the appraisal process.
“For years, rising property taxes have been a tremendous burden for our taxpayers,” said Representative Otto. “Last year, we successfully reduced the maintenance and operation school tax rate by a full one-third, a significant savings the taxpayers will realize this year. But until we can address rising appraisal values, my fear is the recent tax savings will be diminished in the coming years.”
“The bills I have filed for the 80 th Legislative Session are aimed to slow ‘appraisal creep’, empower the taxpayer, change the appraisal challenge process, and see if we can’t slow this problem of skyrocketing appraisal values and higher taxes.”
Representative Otto said his bills are not part of any commissioned study, but are based largely on his experience as a former city councilman, former school board member, and a former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Liberty County Central Appraisal District.
“I have seen this process from every angle,” said Otto, “so I understand what the cities, counties and school districts need, and I understand what the appraisal districts are doing and how they work. Given that background, I think we’ve drafted meaningful legislation.”
Representative Otto is quick to add, however, the legislation has its challenges. “The biggest challenge with legislation like this is to realize that not all appraisal districts are operated the same. There are appraisal districts that do a fine job and are excellent examples of how the system should work. However, there are far too many appraisal districts that have failed the taxpayers. In either case, the system can be, and will be, improved.”
The legislation filed by Representative Otto consists of the following bills with a brief description of each.
HB 216 – This bill raises the margin of error (from 5% to 10%) used in the Comptroller’s property value ratio study. Appraisers by law cannot appraise property at more than “fair market value,” but the current margin of error forces appraisers to “shoot high” in order to fall within the current margin of error.
HB 3490 – This bill says that a central appraisal district cannot sue a taxpayer who successfully makes his argument to the appraisal review board, keeping his appraisal value down. This protects the taxpayer from further legal fights in the process.
HB 3491 – This bill addresses the makeup of the central appraisal district board of directors are put in place by each taxing entity, giving the perception the taxing entities are in charge of the appraised values. This bill gives the taxpayer some relief to know that two board members are in no way “tied” to the taxing entities. The bill also term limits the board of directors, enduring fresh eyes and fresh opinions come to the board.
HB 3492 – This bill provides for the Comptroller’s annual ratio study to take into account the values arrived at during the appraisal challenge process, including appraisal review board findings and arbitration in favor of the taxpayer.
HB 3493 – This bill deals with the makeup of the Board of Professional Tax Examiners (the state agency charged with overseeing chief appraisers and appraisers) by adding two additional public members. The bill also calls for additional educational requirements for chief appraisers and appraisers.
HB 3494 – This bill allows the taxpayer to be better prepared to define their position when they enter into binding arbitration. Currently, when a taxpayer loses their property value appeal before the appraisal review board, they can go to binding arbitration, but they are limited as to what can be presented. This bill allows the taxpayer and the central appraisal district to use any information or evidence in arbitration to help make their case. It also allows the property owner to site areas of the process where they allege the appraisal review board or the appraisers violated state law or procedures, which may result in penalties or disciplinary action against violators.
HB 3495 – This bill calls for, and provides, an exact example of a clearer and easier to understand public notice in the newspaper when the governing body gives notice at the meeting at which it will vote on the proposed tax rate. The notice will provide the taxpayer with the proposed tax rate and the total revenue to be raised both before and after new property is included. It will allow taxpayers to see the dollars being raised by appraisal creep.
HB 3496 – This bill calls for appraisal change notices to be mailed to homeowners earlier than other taxpayers if possible. It is attempting to give the homeowner more time to prepare for, and proceed through, the appeals process.