Property value protests set new record

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TCAD’s office building at 850 E. Anderson Lane

Nearly 28,000 more protests than were filed in 2021

Property owners left dazed and confused after getting their Notices of Appraised Values in the mail this year reacted predictably. They filed a record 167,869 protests this year, Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler told the board of Travis Central Appraisal District in a meeting Tuesday.

That’s up by nearly 28,000 protests from the number filed in 2021, she said.

Crigler said 75 percent of the protests were filed by agents on behalf of property owners, and 25 percent by individual owners.

Despite the leap in numbers of protests filed the chief appraiser said she was optimistic that the tax rolls will be certified by July 19th, providing local governments with the critically important data needed to prepare annual budgets and set tax rates for the coming year. Last year was the first time since 2018 that TCAD and the Travis Appraisal Review Board (ARB) accomplished that feat. (The ARB is a separate legal entity independent of TCAD’s control but dependent on TCAD for its budget and administrative support.)

Crigler said TCAD will now allow property owners or their agents to set their own dates for conducting informal protests with staff appraisers, rather than getting an assigned date and time from TCAD, as in the past. She encouraged owners and agents to “get in line early” for informals but added, “We anticipate that a ton of people” will apply at the very last minute. “We’re trying to be as accommodating as possible.”

Informals will be offered through June 30th. Instructions for how the process works is provided on the TCAD website.

To achieve certification requires settlement of 90 percent of the total value of all properties that TCAD appraises, so the target is about $403 billion. To reach that goal, owners or their agents must either accept the property value that TCAD assigned, resolve their protests through informal consultation with staff appraisers or through formal protest hearings conducted by the ARB, or by “Top Line” agreements struck with agents.

Top Line agreements, formally known as Joint Motions to Dispose of Protests and Request for Agreed Orders, were critical to on-time certification last year, as the Bulldog reported in great detail.

The strategy for accomplishing on-time certification is for TCAD and the ARB to focus first on high-value properties and work downward, Crigler said. Even if certification is accomplished on time, settling all remaining protests may take until late September, she said.

The ARB hearings should start in earnest about June 21st with both in-person and remote hearings to start with 25 three-member panels.

Total value of Travis County properties

As the market value of individual properties grew, so did the total value of all properties appraised by the district. The preliminary value totaled more than $447.3 billion in 2022, up from $322.9 billion in 2021. That’s an increase of 38.5 percent in a single year.

A press release issued previously by TCAD stated attributed the growth to a “56 percent increase in residential properties, a 54 percent increase in commercial properties, and $5.8 billion in new construction.”

A 20-year history of appraisal roll values from 2002 through 2021 included in the meeting materials shows the previous biggest jump in total values in a single year was 20.32 percent in 2018, when the total was $245.3 billion. At the opposite extreme, the year-to-year totals actually decreased by 4.09 percent in 2003 and by 4.51 percent in 2010.

TCAD budget to increase nearly 13 percent

The funds to operate the appraisal district and the ARB are funded by the 136 taxing jurisdictions that TCAD services. Charts shown in the meeting materials show that school districts collectively pay for 52.2 percent of TCAD’s budget, cities 19.25 percent, and Travis County 15.85 percent. Central Health pays 4.96 percent and Austin Community College paid 4.13 percent. The remainder is collected from a variety of smaller organizations.

Materials supplied in support of the board’s June 7th meeting state the proposed budget for 2023 is $25,683,866. That’s an increase of $2,897,756 over TCAD’s current year budget of $22,786,110, or 12.72 percent.

Cynthia Martinez

TCAD has not yet prepared a draft budget. A budget workshop held Tuesday was conducted to discuss priorities, needs, and get board feedback that will be used to shape the draft, said TCAD Communications Officer Cynthia Martinez.

The draft will be ready in about two months, she said, and the board will schedule and hold a public hearing before a budget is approved.

The chief drivers of increases in the proposed 2023 budget are expected to be personnel costs, which are projected to rise 16.37 percent to $9.5 million, and legal services, estimated to increase 74.38 percent to $1.6 million. TCAD was involved in 1,654 property value lawsuits in 2021, according to a chart in TCAD’s proposed budget. The total value of properties involved in those lawsuits is slightly more than $50 billion.

Leana Mann

Speaking of personnel costs, the board of directors approved an across-the-board 3 percent, cost-of-living pay increase effective July 1st. That will cost less than $300,000 for the remainder of 2022, said Deputy Chief Appraiser Leana Mann.

The district budgeted for 143 employees in 2022 and currently employs 116 people, according to meeting materials. TCAD has job postings for 20 vacancies, of which 13 are for appraisers and six are in customer service. The proposed budget for 2023 calls for adding 10 more positions.

TCAD uses seven contractors from Capital Appraisal to provide assistance on mass appraisals but continues to struggle to find qualified applicants as it competes with companies like Amazon, which has 1,635 open positions in Austin, and Tesla. It hired consulting firm Pearl Meyer to conduct a professional salary survey that led to the proposal to increase the entire pay system by 3 percent for a cost of living adjustment.

The proposed budget calls for increasing the auto allowance for appraisers from $6,600 to $8,400 per appraiser per year to bring it up to what’s paid by all but one other appraisal district.

Increasing public visibility

TCAD attempted to host its first-ever live streaming of a board meeting via the Swagit system that’s long been used by the City of Austin. The Swagit system will include an archive of video files for future board meetings.

“We had technical problems today,” Martinez told the board. “The sound system should be better in this room and for people watching us from outside.”

Screenshot of what remote viewers saw when watching Tuesday’s TCAD board meeting.

Given the technical glitch, remote viewers were switched to using Zoom for Tuesday’s board meeting. The result was a split-screen video presentation in which the board members were displayed in a panoramic manner at the top of the screen and the key staff members and podium for a speaker were a blur across the bottom.

On another positive note, the agency has created an email address for direct communication with TCAD board members: [email protected]. Because of fears that email address will be overrun, Martinez said, emails will be filtered and messages routed to customer service or the taxpayer liaison if appropriate.

The chief appraiser heaped praise on Martinez before the communications officer made her board presentation on communication and outreach that included improvements since she joined TCAD in September 2019. (Her entire presentation is included in the meeting materials.)

TCAD netted a Public Information Program Award from the International Association of Assessing Officers in 2021 and has made vast improvements since the Bulldog in December 2019 published a scathing review of flubbed surveys and a pathetic reach through social media platforms.

This year, TCAD’s online webinars have reached more than 26,000 people, according to Martinez’ presentation. Videos for five recent webinars are available for viewing, covering a variety of topics of interest to property owners.

Trust 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 on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected]

Who funds this work? This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help support this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.

Related documents:

TCAD board meeting agenda for June 7, 2022 (3 pages) 20220607 Agenda

TCAD board meeting materials for June 7, 2022 (261 pages) 20220607 Backup

TCAD proposed budget for 2023, June 7, 2022 (51 pages) 2023 Proposed

Related Bulldog coverage:

Appraised home values jump more than 50 percent, April 19, 2022

TCAD asking more than $7.65 million for unused properties, March 31, 2022

Appraisal district finally has a deputy chief, February 28, 2022

Appraisal district looks to avoid rocky 2022, December 17, 2021

TCAD pares back budget hike to 12.5 percent, June 10, 2021

TCAD asking for 24 percent budget jump, May 26, 2021

Appraisal Review Board gets new leader, finally, April 9, 2021

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

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