School districts blast appraisal district

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TCAD board and staff members at the February 19, 2019, board meeting

Not reappraising residential properties in 2020 will cause major problems for school districts

Tom Leonard

Tom Leonard, superintendent of Eanes Independent School District, addressed the TCAD board of directors this morning. He presented a letter on behalf of eight of the 15 school districts who depend on Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) to supply certified tax rolls.

Those eight school districts collectively have taxable property valued at more than $61.7 billion, according to The Austin Bulldog’s compilation of April estimates of value contained in the board meeting materials considered today.

“We represent thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of kids,” Leonard told the TCAD board.

The letter stated that Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler invited nine Travis County school districts to a meeting on February 12, 2020, and notified them that residential properties would not be reappraised in 2020.

“It would be an understatement to say that when we heard TCAD does not intend to reappraise residential property for 2020, we were shocked and dismayed by the late notice.

“The impact on Travis County local entities will vary, but it will be measurable on all and, for the school districts, will ultimately adversely affect students, teachers and staff,” the letter states.

“The timing of this announcement on the eve of property [value] estimates being mailed out is particularly concerning,” the letter states, noting that TCAD had received a cease-and-desist letter from the Austin Board of Realtors for use of MLS data nine months ago.

“There was no indication that this dispute would affect Travis County local entities until last week’s announcement,” even though TCAD has known of its implications since at least last May. “All of this is out of our control, which now necessitates emergency budget decisions.”

“All school districts will have less M&O (maintenance and operations) funds than projected because of the unassessed value of their golden pennies. Less operating funds means staffing reductions and budget cuts.”

Texas a nondisclosure state

The basic thrust of the problem is that Texas is one of a dozen states that does not require disclosure of property sales prices. The others are Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri (some counties), Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, according to information supplied to the TCAD board for its meeting.

Yet Texas Property Tax Code Section 23.01 requires taxable property to be appraised at its market value as of January 1. Market value is defined as the price at which a property would transfer for cash or its equivalent under prevailing market conditions, per Texas Property Tax Code Section 1.04(7).

The meeting materials  state that TCAD is required to follow the International Association of Assessing Officers standard on sales verification. Market data sources are real estate transfer documents, sales verification questionnaires, buyers and sellers, and third-party sources.

Property deeds reflecting sales typically indicate that ownership is transferred for “….ten dollars and other valuable consideration.”

TCAD sent nearly 22,000 letters to property buyers asking for price information and got fewer than 2,400 responses, a response rate of about 11 percent.

Chief appraiser out of options

Marya Crigler

Chief Appraiser Crigler attributed the decision not to reappraise residential properties in 2020 to the unavailability of multiple listing service (MLS) market data.

Access to that data was lost some nine months ago when the Austin Board of Realtors issued a cease-and-desist letter to TCAD.

TCAD had been getting the MLS data through a master service agreement executed February 12, 2018, with a third-party vendor, CoreLogic Solutions LLC. TCAD paid CoreLogic $12,000 in June 2018, according to information The Austin Bulldog obtained through a public information request.

Chief Appraiser Crigler told the board, “I’ll throw myself on the mercy of anyone who can help us.”

“We added new construction [to the property rolls], but when it comes to data analysis to calibrate our models we don’t have the data,” she said.

New construction will be added using 2019 appraisal valuation models, according to the meeting materials.

A chart provided in the meeting materials indicates that in tax years 2012 through 2019 TCAD was able to collect data on an average of 98 percent of sales, but for 2020 it had obtained just 15 percent.

“We want to do our job but the data is just not there,” Crigler said.

“Property owners and tax agents will be able to protest property value regardless of whether or not the parcel was reappraised,” the meeting materials state.

Blanca Zamora-Garcia

“What are the other appraisal districts doing?” asked board member Blanca Zamora-Garcia, one of two City of Austin appointees to the board.

“A lot of other major districts get the data,” Crigler replied. “Our situation is unique in the state. They have been able to get data from other third-party sources. We have not.”

State comptroller may have data but can’t release it

Crigler told the board that the Texas Comptroller has the information but TCAD is not able to obtain it.

The board set the next meeting for 1pm Thursday February 27 and one of  the items on the agenda will be to authorize sending a letter to the Texas Comptroller to ask for that information.

Kevin Lyons

Kevin Lyons, spokesperson for the Comptroller’s Office, told The Austin Bulldog in a telephone interview that while the comptroller collects such information from a variety of sources, including MLS, it must follow state law concerning its release.

The Texas Public Information Act, Government Code Section 552.149 is the controlling statute. Lyons said the data could be released only when an appraisal district or school district protests the comptroller’s Property Value Study (PVS).

Because the next PVS will be done late this year or early next year, Lyons said, even if the appraisal district or a school district protested the PVS and obtained the information, by that time the information would be a year old.

That would not satisfy TCAD’s requirement for market value information that’s needed now to accurately assess residential market values for 2020.

2019 Annual Report and more available

The board meeting materials include the following information.

  • 2020 Valuation: impact of market data on appraised values and the property value study (pages 45-64 of the PDF linked below).
  • 2020 informal meeting logistics and communication plan. This provides details about the 2020 protest procedures (pages 65-69).
  • Homestead exemption information: saving money on your property taxes (pages 70-98).
  • TCAD’s annual report (pages 99-140)

AUDIO OF TCAD MEETING Feb 19, 2020

Links to related material:

TCAD agenda for board meeting of February 19, 2019

TCAD Board of Directors meeting materials for February 19, 2020 (164 pages)

TCAD Master Services Agreement with CoreLogic Solutions and invoice (24 pages)

Travis County school districts letter to TCAD board delivered February 19, 2020 (3 pages)

Other Bulldog coverage of TCAD:

Judge undercuts chief appraiser’s authority, February 17, 2019

Appraisal review board and appraisal district sued, January 6, 2020

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

TCAD flubs public notice for hearing on Proposed 2020 Budget, August 9, 2019

TCAD loses Catherine Tower lawsuits at cost of nearly $850,000, July 23, 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

Trust indicators:

Photo of Ken MartinKen 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].

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