Texas Rising September/October 2009

by Gerard MacCrossan

Property Value and Appraisal District Studies

What did HB 8 change?

  • Changes the frequency of the Property Value Study from annual to biennial.
  • Districts receiving invalid findings will be studied annually until valid findings are achieved.
  • Requires the Comptroller to institute a new biennial review of appraisal district procedures and operations, the Methods and Assistance Program (MAP), issue recommendations and notify the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation if an appraisal district fails to comply with the recommendations.
  • Retains the previous grace period allowing local values to be used in school funding for a two-year period despite invalid PVS findings, but makes it contingent on passing the MAP in addition to having valid values in the two most recent value studies.

Aiming for Accurate Appraisals

Property Value Studies designed to modernize appraisal system

The largest share of property tax dollars collected in Texas goes to more than 1,000 public school districts across the state.

Going forward, the Comptroller’s office will conduct biennial property value studies in all Texas school districts. And, for the first time, procedures and operations in all county appraisal districts (CADs) will be reviewed in alternate years.

“The purpose of the study is twofold,” says Deborah Cartwright, director of the Comptroller’s Property Tax Assistance Division (PTAD). “We want school districts to be equitably and uniformly funded and we need to make sure appraisals are uniform statewide.”

Until House Bill 8 was passed by the 2009 Texas Legislature, about 1,500 property value studies (PVS) were undertaken annually by the PTAD. Cartwright says the biennial process will afford the 40 to 50 Comptroller appraisers more time to thoroughly review and verify sales for half the number of studies in a year.

“Our interest is in creating more thorough, accurate studies for school districts,” Cartwright says. “Biennial value studies coupled with biennial CAD reviews will improve the appraisal system statewide.”

In the past, appraisal districts were only reviewed if property values were judged to be inaccurate. The oversight in those situations was limited to asking a district judge to replace the CAD’s board, a measure that wasn’t enforced, Cartwright says.

Going forward, all CADs will be inspected biennially – a measure that the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts strongly supports, says Harris County Chief Appraiser Jim Robinson, who chaired the association’s legislative committee.

A Methods and Assistance Program (MAP) is being developed by the Comptroller’s office to review each district’s governance, taxpayer assistance, and operating and appraisal standards, procedures and methodology. The CAD system was implemented in 1979, when appraisal responsibilities were removed from the taxing entities. Cartwright says HB 8 modernizes the state’s appraisal system.

“After the review, PTAD staff will submit its findings with draft recommendations for the appraisal district to respond,” Cartwright says. “The appraisal district will be scored, and we will submit the results to the CAD board of directors and the school districts in the county.”

PTAD will help CADs comply with legal requirements, such as possessing a written reappraisal plan, having the maps required by law and finding tools that are efficient and effective.

PTAD will show them how to do it, but not do it for them,” Cartwright says. “We will provide ongoing assistance before finalizing recommendations.”

Robinson says the inspections and subsequent recommendations will be good for the appraisal system.

“It will help bring statewide uniformity to how appraisal districts do things,” he says. “It also could help a district that may just have a chief appraiser and one or two employees and that has extremely limited resources. This is an opportunity for the state to help identify resources that will be beneficial to small entities.”

For districts that don’t meet the standards, HB 8 has delegated enforcement to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR).

“This licensing agency has enforcement capabilities that have not existed in the past,” Cartwright says. The rules for enforcement still are being developed, she says, but HB 8 requires every appraisal district to substantially comply with the findings of the Methods and Assistance Program during a one-year follow-up check by PTAD before the results are submitted to TDLR. TR

Learn more about the changes in the Comptroller’s Property Tax Assistance Division and find information for consumers and local government online.

County Government Budgeting:
Profile

Funny About Money

It helps to have a head for numbers and a heart for self-deprecation if you plan to be a tax assessor-collector.

Williamson County Tax Assessor-Collector Deborah Hunt was on a float with an army of children throwing candy during a Fourth of July parade last year when the announcer, an old friend, took a shot.

“This year she’s giving back,” he cracked, “instead of taking.”

Zing.

“You need a sense of humor in this job,” Hunt said. “People who know me know my sense of humor. They know they can have at it.”

Still, it’s not Hunt’s ability to take a joke that’s kept her as one of the most
recognizable officials in the nation’s sixth-fastest growing county. Instead, it stems from her ability to oversee the annual collection of more than $500 million in taxes from 77 jurisdictions, as well as title fees for the more than 350,000 vehicles registered in Williamson County.

That and the fact that nearly every adult in the county of more than 400,000 has written a check to Hunt since she took office almost 13 years ago.

The Texas Tax Code holds assessor-collectors personally liable for lost or misplaced funds, unless a court finds no negligence or misconduct.

Like all tax assessor-collectors, Hunt is bonded, “but it’s not even close to one day’s bank deposit from the tax office,” she says.

 “In all the counties the tax assessor usually has the highest name recognition and gets the most votes,” Hunt says. “That’s not an ego thing for me. I realize it’s all about name recognition.”

Hunt, a sixth-generation Texan, got her tax collecting start when a PTA connection helped her get a job as a Municipal Utility District tax collector. She was elected to the Williamson County office in 1996.

Along the way she’s made customer service her main focus.

“Hopefully few go to jail or have business with the sheriff or constable and not as many deal with the clerk and other offices,” she says. “But virtually everyone has business with the tax assessor. We’re the face of county government.”

An avowed technophile, Hunt keeps her office on the cutting edge. She’s working to eliminate convenience charges on credit and debit card payments and expanding more taxpayer services to the Internet.

“We have a generation coming up that’s becoming more and more inclined to do that,” she says. “My vision is that nearly all of it will be done online.”

Learn more about the Williamson County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office.

Find out about the Tax Collector-Assessor Association of Texas.

(Mark Wangrin)