Getting It Right

untitledThe old rancher sat eyeing the county property tax review board at the end of the table.

“You have my property valued at $50 per acre,” the man declared, “but you have my neighbor’s place on the tax roll for just $25 per acre.”

This happened about 50 years ago in another county where I worked. If you think property taxes are messed up now, you should have tried to cope with them back then.The city, county and school each had their own tax rolls, with their own appraisal review process.

Each, also, set at what percentage your property assessed. Your house may have been valued at $20,000, but it went on the roll at $10,000 if the assessment was 50 percent. Then, the Peveto Bill passed in 1979.

All appraisal functions consolidated into one county-wide office. In Marion County, the Marion Central Appraisal District serves this function. The assessment business went away, although separate homestead exemption formulas remain.

Some entities offer a flat dollar exemption. Some let you take a percentage off the value of your home on the tax roll. Some give you no break at all. Although appraisals are performed locally, state auditors look over the local folks’ shoulders.

A recent state audit indicated Marion County Appraisals were on an average 10 percent too low. Most of the value shortfall hit residential and commercial property. Unless the “problem” is remedied, the state will reduce the amount of money it gives Jefferson ISD, which could force a tax increase or a reduction in school programs.

You may have received a property tax appraisal notice you believe is out of line. Just because the MCAD office on Tuttle Street needs to find 10 percent more money, doesn’t mean all of it has to come from you. You can ask appraisers to prove to you that the new value is warranted.

You can discuss it and hopefully arrive at a reasonable conclusion. People like James Goolsby and Cliff Bode have told me the folks at MCAD will work with you. If an appraiser and you can not agree, you have until May 15 to file a protest and take your case to the Appraisal Review Board.

I have complained about values and reached an agreement with the appraisers. I have also filed a protest and met with the Review Board. Fortunately, I was able to persuade the board to see matters my way. Ad valorem property taxes, the official name for property taxes, contains a Latin phrase which means according to the value.

That is what this process is about. Are the taxes being levied according to the value? Property taxes have been around since before the sheriff of Nottingham collected for Prince John.

We inherited a British system following the Revolution that had a bipolar relationship with production value and amount of property. In the 19th Century, the ad valorem approach was promoted as a tax on unearned wealth.

While the tax was based on the total value of the property, the collection amounted to a tax on the natural increase in that property’s value – an unearned boost in the land owner’s wealth.

As long as property values continued to go up, everyone was more or less happy. With a combined tax rate of around $2, it would take 50 years for you be taxed out of your original investment.

MCAD Chief Appraiser Ann Lummus urged Marion County property owners to visit with her staff or file a protest if they believe there is a problem.

I should warn you that you will not always prevail.

That old rancher, whose name I forgot before the Texas Rangers moved to Arlington, asked the Appraisal Review Board to lower his valuation to the $25 per acre of his neighbor.

The board thanked him for bringing the discrepancy to their attention and promised to value the two adjoining properties the same. They raised his neighbor’s assessment to $50 per acre.

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