Appraisal Review Board has 60 members who refuse to participate, with plans to ask for 200 ARB appointees
What happens if you hold a public hearing on a $20.2 million annual budget and no one comes?
For the Travis Central Appraisal District, the 226-page budget for 2021 passes unanimously.
The same goes for the public hearing on TCAD’s 2021-2020 Reappraisal Plan. No one signed up to speak in the public hearing and the 102-page plan passed by unanimous vote.
TCAD’s budget for Calendar Year 2021 was for the same amount as it was for 2020: $20,193,893 to be exact.
TCAD’s budget is funded through assessments to the 131 local government agencies it services. Each taxing entity is allocated a portion of the budget equal to the proportion to the total dollar amount of property taxes imposed by the unit for the tax year. The assessment is divided by four and payments are due to TCAD at the beginning of each quarter.
The largest assessments are paid by school districts, with Austin ISD assessed by far the largest amount of $6.47 million. The smallest assessments are made to municipal utility districts; Southeast Travis County MUD No. 2 was assessed a fee of $3.41.
Although there were increases in 11 line items in the budget, those increases were offset by reductions elsewhere.
TCAD continues to budget for more employees than it actually hires. A staffing chart in the budget indicates it budgeted for 129 employees in 2020 and the same number in 2021.
Information obtained by The Austin Bulldog through a public information request indicates TCAD employed no more than 120 employees at any time this year and lost 15 through attrition by resignation, retirement, termination for performance, and a layoff. That leaves current staffing at 102 people.
Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler, asked to comment on this trend, said, “Due to COVID-19, our hiring temporarily slowed for a portion of the year. However, we have several open positions we are hiring for at this time and have plans to fill additional positions through the end of 2020 and early 2021. Additionally, we fill certain support positions using a temp-to-hire model. These individuals are not included in our employee count until they meet all the requirements to become a TCAD employee.”
TCAD’s Careers webpage currently lists three job openings. TCAD continues to operate without a deputy chief appraiser and information technology director.
Residential sales data
As The Austin Bulldog previously reported, TCAD got crosswise with the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) for acquiring its residential sales data from a third-party vendor and using it to model values for residential properties during the reappraisal process.
When the ABoR found out about it they sent a cease-and-desist letter to halt the practice. As a result, Chief Appraiser Crigler announced that residential real estate would not be reappraised in 2020.
That decision drew backlash from a coalition of eight independent school districts. Tom Leonard, superintendent of Eanes ISD told the TCAD board, “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.”
At the September 3, 2020, board meeting, Crigler said for the 2021 reappraisal process TCAD “will use any sales data we can get. We’re exploring other sources of data, including information obtained through the ARB process.”
In response to a board member’s question, Crigler said “we are pursuing multiple avenues” to obtain residential sales data.
TCAD’s Reappraisal Plan states that in 2020 it had 413,961 real estate accounts and 43,354 accounts for business personal property.
2020 ARB hearings progressing slowly
During the discussion of the Reappraisal Plan, Crigler told the board that Appraisal Review Board formal hearings are still underway for owners who didn’t accept TCAD’s valuation of their properties. ARB hearings are being held via Sonexis Conference Manager teleconferences and seems to be functioning well.
That said, the ARB is understaffed. There were 150 members appointed by the local administrative judge this year but many have refused to participate.
ARB Chair Storey Bonner Cordelle told the board that he has 24 panels of three members each holding ARB hearings remotely. “The only real issue is we have…60 members unwilling to participate.”
“The lack of panels is creating significant delays for district and agents,” said Chief Appraiser Crigler. “We’ve got more requests than we can handle…We can report to the district judge and get more members to have more panels, but the lack of panels is the most significant obstacle to getting work done.”
Cordelle said that future applicants to serve on the ARB will need to have a computer, Internet connection and a phone, and those needs should be added to the criteria for screening applicants before they are appointed.
The board voted to recommend the judge not reappoint the ARB members who are not participating.
On a separate motion the Board approved Crigler’s recommendation to ask the judge to bring the total number of ARB members to 200. Crigler said there should be no additional cost because the larger number of ARB panels would complete the work much sooner.
TCAD staff operating in two locations
Crigler told the board that some TCAD staff, including herself, were now working from the new location at 850 E. Anderson Lane, while others were still working from 8314 Crosspark Drive. Most work is being done remotely. Renovations at the new location are “substantially complete” she said.
The chief appraiser had high praise for the TCAD staff. “Everyone pulled together and did a terrific job,” she said.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that ARB hearings were being held via Zoom teleconferences.
Links to related documents:
Travis Central Appraisal District Fiscal Year 2021 Proposed Budget (226 pages)
Travis Central Appraisal District Reappraisal Plan for Tax Years 2021 and 2022 (102 pages)
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 Bulldog coverage:
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
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 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