Appraisal Review Board gets new leader, finally

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TCAD offices at 850 E. Anderson Lane.

Updated 1:24pm April 9, 2021, to correct the effects of the TCAD Board passing a resolution concerning when the chief appraiser may certify tax rolls. 

2021 informal property value protests start April 19th, three days after Notices of Appraised Value are mailed to property owners

Thomas King

Thomas King, the new chair for the Travis Appraisal Review Board (ARB), was appointed 6:30pm Wednesday by District Judge Lora Livingston, who also serves as Travis County’s administrative judge. King took over the job just in time to address the Travis Central Appraisal District’s board at its Thursday meeting.

And just in time to organize and lead the ARB through what’s expected to involve the largest number of protests ever, for several reasons. Residential properties were not reappraised in 2019. Plus, Austin’s housing market has such low inventory for sale that bidding wars have broken out. That’s a double whammy that promises to cause home valuations to jump significantly. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses dependent on tourism have been hammered by the pandemic, promising a sharp increase in protests from those property owners.

King’s appointment is good news. Organizing, training, and guiding 173 rank-and-file ARB members, who meet in three-member panels to hear formal protests, is a crucial job.

King seems to be ready for it. He said he’s in his sixth year on the ARB and that he personally chaired panels for 2,000 formal protest hearings in 2020.

“This is a big challenge,” he said regarding the 2021 protest season. “To get the work done in time to meet certification deadlines will take a partnership between ARB, the agents representing property owners, and TCAD (Travis Central Appraisal District).”

TCAD is separate from the ARB but provides financial and clerical support for it and budgeted to have 200 ARB members for the 2021 protest season.

The judge appointed 104 new members and reappointed 44, all for two-year terms. In addition, 36 members are returning for their second year of a two-year term. However, King told the board that some of the 104 newly appointed members have already dropped out, leaving 176 members. Three of those are staff (King, vice chair Teresa Gaines, and secretary Sally Becker) leaving 173 available to conduct hearings.

Since certification deadlines are based on total property values resolved—not the percentage of protests filed—King said, “ARB and TCAD will have to work with agents to have high-value residential properties heard first.”

High turnover among ARB chairs

King is the third man to serve as ARB chair in the past nine months. His two predecessors resigned over criticism from TCAD’s Board of Directors concerning cost overruns in the 2020 hearing process, haggling over the ARB officers’ pay for performing statutorily required administrative duties, and threats of reducing the per-diem pay for the chair and other more experienced ARB members.

The threat of reduced pay was a key issue addressed by a half-dozen ARB members who spoke to the Board of Directors during citizens communication.

ARB member Kendall Kelly said she’s now in her fourth year and comments made by TCAD board members about ARB performance are “not based on what we do.” She said Travis ARB relies more heavily on data than other counties.

“We have educated people on our boards to make decisions. Every season people quit because can’t understand the data to make decisions. Tax agents present more arguments,” Kelly said. “Lowering ARB per diem would be bad idea. No one wants to donate time for work not appreciated. That will result in many experienced board members leaving.”

The motion to roll back per diem to the rates paid in 2018 was debated in the board’s February 11th meeting and, after a deadlocked 4-4 vote, tabled. That would have reduced the chair’s pay from $275 a day to $225 and whacked the most experienced ARB members from $200 a day to $170.

The per-diem cut was back on the April 8th agenda but was not discussed so, for now, ARB per diem rates will remain unchanged.

Attorney defends administrative expenses

Julia Armstrong

The ARB’s attorney, Julia Armstrong of Taos Law, wrote a March 22nd letter to TCAD’s in-house attorney, Dustin Banks, pointing out that TCAD does not have the authority to withhold compensation for—or control—the administrative activities of the ARB in carrying out its statutory responsibilities.

Banks invited her to address the board at its Thursday meeting.

Armstrong said her immediate concern over the board’s February 11th meeting was there was no understanding of oversight. “I don’t think that means approval. I think it means keeping an eye on things. It doesn’t mean the board can pass (judgment) on any particular bill.

“That’s a lot of trouble for everybody and you don’t need that. If oversight is done that way, people are asked to do their duties, all the things necessary that don’t include sitting in a hearing. These are prescribed by statutes. People have to do these things: answer emails, meet in committees, schedule, jump up and solve a problem,” Armstrong said. Mentioning just a few of the things detailed in her letter.

“You have to have some smarts to do what ARB  members are required to do. A lot of training we give them is not enough to bring them up to the level needed. They need critical thinking, judgment, be able to figure out problems, understand what data means, and this is worthy of compensation.”

Board did not relent

In spite of Armstrong’s comments the board decided to scrutinize claims for non-hearing (administrative) compensation via a three-member committee that will review requests for reimbursement before they’re processed for payment by TCAD. Which means these payments will not have to wait until the next scheduled board meeting for approval.

The board also asked that TCAD’s 2022 budget for the ARB have the total amount for salaries split to show amounts for formal protest hearings separate from the amount for administrative work.

What looks to board members as carrying out their fiduciary duty by putting non-hearing expenses under a  microscope is viewed by ARB members as a lack of support. It’s giving attention to a minor facet of overall costs. Instead the board should be focusing on how to achieve a collaborative approach in which TCAD and ARB work in harmony to get through the formal protest hearing process and reach certification as soon as possible.

In that regard, the board unanimously approved a resolution to allow the chief appraiser to certify the tax rolls July 20th at 90 percent of the total taxable value, instead of 95 percent, which is allowed in counties with a population of one million. This requires the chief appraiser by July 25th to notify each taxing unit with an estimate of taxable value of the property in that taxing jurisdiction. Timely certification of tax rolls provides information essential for taxing units to prepare their annual budgets and set tax rates.

2021 protest season begins soon

Marya Crigler

Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler said TCAD expects to mail Notices of Appraised Values (NOAV) April 16th. Property owners or their agents will have until May 17th to file protests.

NOAV PDFs will be available online April 26th.

Protests may be filed through TCAD’s eFile portal, to include viewing TCAD’s evidence and uploading property owner’s evidence. Informal settlement offers may be accepted or rejected via the portal as well.

Informal meetings will not be scheduled, but taken first come, first served. Owners and agents may get in line online using the QLess reservation system at https://www.traviscad./informals. Owners can get in line online for an informal meeting the same day or schedule individual time slots of 10-15 minutes on future dates. Agents handling protests can reserve a one-hour block for commercial properties or a four-hour block for residential properties, with a minimum of 25 accounts to be worked.

All meetings will be held telephonically with online remote screen sharing. If a phone number able to receive text messages is provided when signing up, protesters will get a text alert before being called. At the time scheduled, an appraiser will call and provide Sonexis information so evidence may be shared on screen.

Offers to reduce values are not guaranteed but will be based on documented evidence. Appraisers will discuss potential offers over the phone during informal meetings but will be officially made via the eFile portal, generally overnight or the next day. Which is a significant improvement over last year, when offers might take a week to be offered.

Taxpayers must formally accept offers via the eFile portal. But TCAD reserves the right to review offers for typographical errors, accuracy, fairness and consistency.

Informal telephonic protest meetings between staff appraisers and residential property owners or their agents will begin April 19th and end June 18th. Residential meetings will be conducted Monday through Friday, 7:45am to 4:45pm.

Informal protest meetings for commercial properties begin April 26th and end June 18th. Hearings for agents representing commercial property owners will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for commercial property owners on Wednesdays, 9am to 1pm.

Formal ARB protest hearings are to begin June 1st and end August 30th although that could change when the ARB presents its final 2021 hearing plan.

In-person hearings, if requested, will be available at TCAD offices at 850 E. Anderson Lane, with 18 stations providing for socially distanced hearings. The chief appraiser said that remote hearings were popular in the 2020 protest season, after pandemic procedures were implemented, because that avoided the necessity for travel and sitting in a waiting room until called.

Disaster tax-relief available

TCAD wants property owners to know if their property suffered damage during winter storms, they may be eligible for a temporary break on their 2021 property taxes.

Tax Code Section 11.35 allows a chief appraiser to determine if a property qualifies based on a damage assessment rating of Levels 1 to 4. Those are specified in an article on TCAD’s website at https://www.traviscad.org/news/property-owners-may-be-eligible-for-temporary-disaster-related-relief-on-their-property-taxes. The temporary exemptions last until the property is reappraised.

“Travis County property owners will spend the next few months rebuilding their homes and businesses. This temporary exemption can offer some property tax relief during this difficult time,” Crigler said in the posted article.

Note: the deadline to apply is May 28th. Property owners must complete an application and submit by mail or office drop box at 850 E. Anderson Lane. See more info at https://www.traviscad.org/disasters/

2021 values expected to change a lot

TCAD is still in the process of updating its appraisal models so Crigler said she could not provide a detailed market overview for various property types. Instead she provided her overall estimates.

“We are the hottest market in the nation and have had a lot of appreciation in the residential sector,” she said. Generally there is a six-month inventory of residential properties for sale. “But in Travis the inventory is measured in days—18 days the last I heard. There’s a lot of demand for housing. Properties are selling for 20 to 30 percent over the asking prices, with 30 to 40 offers being made on the day properties are listed for sale.”

Crigler said there’s also been an increased demand for industrial property and she anticipates that will cause value increases. Office property values are up in some cases and down in others, she said.

“We think retail will be down because of Covid…Hotels and restaurants are the hardest hit—anything in hospitality.”

“While overall appraisal rolls will increase, elected officials should recognize the fact that increases in residential values while commercial values are down or flat will result in a shift in tax burden to residential homeowners,” stated one of the slides used in her presentation.

Webinars continuing

TCAD will hold it’s fourth webinar 1:30pm April 21st on the topic of Understanding Your Notice of Appraised Value. Registration is available at traviscad.org/webinars.

Monthly webinars started in January with Your Property Tax Bill. The February topic was Homestead Exemptions, while March covered Appraisal Information for New Homeowners. Videos of those past webinars are available at the same link.

The last scheduled hearing on a date to be announced in May will cover the 2021 Protest Process. Registration for that webinar will also be available through the same link, probably sometime next week.

May board meeting date to be decided

The TCAD board is expected to meet in May but the date will not be set until the members are surveyed for availability. That said, the following items should be on that meeting’s agenda:

  • Budget workshop to get board input before firming up the 2021 TCAD budget.
  • Update on protests to identify trends and what the overall market looks like.
  • Audit presentation.
  • Presentation on bills in the Legislature that may affect TCAD or ARB operations.

Photo of Ken MartinTrust indicators: Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981 and investigating and reporting on Travis Central Appraisal District since 2011. See more about Ken on the About page.

Links to related documents:

ARB Attorney Julia Armstrong’s letter to TCAD’s in-house counsel Dustin Banks, March 22, 2021 (3 pages)

Resolution 20210408-5E, postponing the date by which the chief appraiser must certify the tax rolls for each taxing unit (3 pages)

TCAD Board of Directors Meeting materials for April 8, 2021, including agenda (199 pages)

Links to related Bulldog coverage:

Appraisal Review Board chair resigns, March 18, 2021

Appraisal Review Board member rebuts criticisms, January 7, 2021

TCAD board hammers ARB chair over costs, delay, December 15, 2020

TCAD 2021 budget approved for $20.2 million, September 8, 2020

COVID-19 plans for appraisal review board hearings, June 1, 2020s

Deadline for property value protests this Friday, May 11, 2020

Protesting property values during COVID-19 emergency, April 15, 2020

Chief appraiser on a losing streak, March 17, 2020

2 COMMENTS

  1. My only comment is, do we know what the level os support is from the taxpayers on these increases on taxes? Are homeowners ok with all these new massively inflated appraisals? I must be uninformed but how can we have unchecked, unthrottled increases in property taxes? This only amplifies gentrification where intergenerational poor people lose their homes because they cant afford taxes that go up because people from out of state have massive buying power and create a market that drives up prices. How is this equitable in any way? While I can afford property taxes, My home is the same as it was 1,2,5 years ago, yet I am going to pay substantially more. What am I missing here.

  2. Lionel you raise some good questions. First, please understand that the taxing entities (school, city, county, healthcare district, ACC) set tax rates. Your tax bill applies the tax rates from each of these taxing entities, multiplied by your property value, and that determines your actual taxes. So if you can get the appraisal district to lower the value of your property value, that will lower your tax bill. The appraisal district is scheduled to send out Notices of Appraised Values to all property owners in a week or so. When you get the notice, if you believe the property value is higher than it should be, then you can protest the value. If you can show evidence the value is too high, then you might persuade the appraisal district to lower the value. If your home is valued higher than comparable homes, that would be a basis to persuade the appraisal district. First comes the informal process, described in this article. If you don’t get a satisfactory result from that, then you can take it to the Appraisal Review Board and be heard by a three-member panel. If you don’t get relief there you have a right to further appeal through arbitration, mediation, or a lawsuit. It’s a long hard road to do all that work but it could pay off. And contact your school board, city council, and commissioners court and tell them to not increase the tax rate they levy. Hope this information helps. Good luck.

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