AG rules that the economic disaster caused by COVID-19 will not permit the temporary exemption of property taxes
The deadline for filing a protest of property values assigned by the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) is this Friday May 15. For information about how to file your protest online, go here. Property owners can get in line, online, to speak to a staff appraiser for the informal protest, but should provide their evidence to the appraisal district beforehand so the appraiser has that information for discussion.
Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler told the Board of Directors in a meeting conducted via Zoom today that through May 7 the agency had received 42,970 protests. All but 460 of those were efiled through the TCAD portal.
That’s just a third of the 143,231 protests filed in 2019, as reported by The Austin Bulldog December 1, 2019. But Crigler said, “We will get a lot of protests on the deadline. That happens every year.”
The number of protests filed this year may be reduced, in part, by the chief appraiser’s decision not to reappraise residential property values in 2020, due to insufficient data concerning sales.
COVID-19 procedures required a significant portion of TCAD employees to work remotely while handling informal value protests telephonically. To accommodate that process, TCAD purchased iPads for staff at a cost of $17,299, along with $10,486 for headsets, according to documents in the meeting materials packet.
Crigler said, “We’ve been able to maintain productivity even in telework.”
Of the protests filed, 41,811 are still active. Crigler said. Eighty-five percent of those were filed for residential properties while the remainder were filed for a commercial property and business personal property.
Formal ARB hearings tentatively start June 1
Property owners not satisfied with the results of their informal protest hearings conducted on the phone with staff appraisers have the right to make their case before a three-member panel of the Appraisal Review Board (ARB).
Plans call for ARB panels to be present onsite in the new building at 850 E. Anderson Lane (northeast corner of I-35 and Highway 183) and to conduct formal protest hearings telephonically.
Crigler said that masks will be provided to ARB members and TCAD has ordered plexiglass as well.
While ARB hearings may begin June 1 they could start later because of delays in getting City permits and delays in the supply chain, Crigler said. “The current biggest delay is in electric panels,” she said. “There could be two to three weeks delay…We can’t get in with no electricity.”
Although TCAD budgeted for and the court appointed enough ARB members to fully staff 40 ARB panels, because of COVID-19, plans now call for using half that number so as to provide appropriate social distancing.
The property owner has the right to request a formal protest hearing in-person and not participate telephonically. That right was reinforced by Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Opinion No. KP-0307. The opinion states the law requires formal protest hearings to be conducted in-person if the property owner requests it. In response, Crigler said those in-person hearings would be conducted in the fall or winter, presumably after the COVID-19 dangers have receded.
Another important aspect of Paxton’s ruling is that Tax Code Section 41.461(1)(3) “requires a chief appraiser to deliver a copy of the protest hearing procedures to property owners initiating a protest. The appraisal district does not satisfy this requirement by only posting the protest procedures on the appraisal district website.”
Paxton’s ruling came in response to a request for an opinion filed by State Representative Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston). In an email responding to The Austin Bulldog’s questions, Middleton said he filed the request for opinion at the behest of the Chambers and Galveston appraisal districts.
“At the end of the day, whether your tax bill goes up on down depends on the tax rate adopted by property taxing entities. Because so many families are struggling and millions are out of a job, every taxing entity should at a minimum adopt the no-new-revenue rate, zero-percent increase, for this year.”
Paxton’s opinion states that statutes “do not allow appraisal review boards to require protest hearings be conducted by videoconference in lieu of in-person hearings when requested by a property owner.”
“We are not looking at teleconferencing,” Crigler told the board.
No breaks for COVID-19 economic disaster
State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) also requested an attorney general’s opinion. He wanted to know if the temporary tax exemption for qualified property damaged by a disaster would apply to property that suffered an economic loss, but no physical damage, as a result of the COVID-19 disaster declared by the governor’s March 13, 2020, proclamation.
In Paxton’s Opinion No. KP-0299, the short answer is no.
The opinion summary states, “Section 11.35 of the Tax Code creates a temporary tax exemption for qualified property damaged by a disaster, as declared by the Governor. A court would likely conclude that the Legislature intended to limit the temporary tax exemption to apply to property physically harmed as a result of a declared disaster. Thus, purely economic, non-physical damage to property caused by the COVID-19 disaster is not eligible for the temporary tax exemption provided by Section 11.35 of the Tax Code.”
Do COVID-19 procedures override open meetings?
Middleton also addressed The Austin Bulldog’s question concerning the fact that by law formal appraisal review board hearings must be conducted in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act. Agendas of ARB meetings are supposed to be posted at least 72 hours in advance and the public is permitted to attend and observe ARB hearings. If ARB hearings are conducted telephonically, as planned, the public would have no way to exercise that right.
Middleton said, “I agree with you that there could be even more due process concerns if formal protest hearings are not open to the public like they are supposed to be. I have serious concerns that will not happen as many CAD offices are still closed to the public.”
The Open Meetings dilemma was not addressed in today’s TCAD board meeting.
Links to related material:
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 on Ken on the About page.
Email [email protected].
Other Bulldog coverage related to TCAD:
Protesting property values during COVID-19 emergency, April 15, 2020
Chief appraiser on a losing streak, March 17, 2020
TCAD to ABoR: thanks but no thanks, February 27, 2020
School districts blast appraisal districts, February 19, 2020
Judge undercuts chief appraiser’s authority, February 17, 2019
Appraisal review board and appraisal district sued, January 6, 2020
TCAD board rewards chief appraiser, December 19, 2019
TCAD 2020 to resume face-to-face informal protests, December 11, 2019
By every measure TCAD is having a bad year, December 1, 2019
TCAD board gets earful about impact of barring face-to-face appeals, November 18, 2019
TCAD alone in barring face-to-face informal protests, November 12, 2019
TCAD board member had dual homestead tax exemptions, October 20, 2019
Property value protest hearings harshly criticized, August 29, 2019
Jam-packed hearings for protesting property values, August 16, 2019
TCAD flubs public notice for hearing on Proposed 2020 Budget, August 9, 2019
TCAD loses landfill lawsuit at cost of nearly $1 million, July 16, 2019
New offices for Travis Central Appraisal District, July 15, 2019
Deputy chief appraiser abruptly resigns, July 10, 2019
Appraisal Review Board heads off lawsuit, June 12, 2019
New procedures undermine appraisal process, June 6, 2019
Lawsuit Seeks Property Tax Hearings, December 17, 2018
Homestead Exemptions a Tax Loophole,” February 26, 2014
Homestead Exemptions Rife With Abuse, December 20, 2013
Chris Riley Nailed for Back Taxes, August 20, 2014
Appraisal District to End Records Suppression, November 22, 2011
Appraisal Records Hidden from Public View, November 18, 2011
Are Austin’s Property Taxes Fair and Equitable? July 30, 2010