TCAD board authorized fewer than half the positions sought for 2022
The Travis Central Appraisal District’s board of directors has approved a radical reduction in the number of people who will be tasked with conducting formal hearings of property valuation protests in 2023.
The reduction in the number of Appraisal Review Board (ARB) members was recommended by Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler at the board of directors meeting December 12, 2022, based on information obtained from 33 appraisal districts that responded to TCAD’s survey.
The survey results from each appraisal district were charted by a variety of factors, including the number of property parcels, the numbers of ARB members, the number of hearings conducted per member, the ARB budgets, and other factors. (Complete survey results are available in the meeting materials, linked at the bottom of this story.)
“Based on the numbers (of ARB members) we’ve got that are retained and eligible for reappointment there would be 74” ARB members to serve in 2023, Crigler told the board.
That’s a far cry from the 200 ARB positions that TCAD has budgeted for in both 2021 and 2022—a number never achieved—and 40 percent fewer than the 124 that were on board to conduct formal hearings this year.
That kind of drastic reduction in the number of ARB members is possible only because TCAD in recent years has relied less and less on formal hearings and increasingly engaged in cutting deals with agents representing property owners.
Massive deal-cutting is routine
The overriding factor driving how valuation protests are resolved is that TCAD must meet a statutory deadline of July 20th for certifying the appraisal rolls. Certifying the appraisal rolls on time is critically important for the 136 taxing jurisdictions that TCAD services. Taxing jurisdictions rely on a timely certified roll to establish the total value of their tax base. That data is needed for jurisdictions to prepare their annual budgets and set tax rates for the coming year.
To certify the appraisal rolls requires that protests for 90 percent of the total value of all Travis County properties must be resolved. Not 90 percent of the number of Travis County properties but the total value of those properties.
To that end, the formal ARB hearings are scheduled to deal with the highest-value properties first and then work downward in values.
Nearly 172,000 property valuation protests were filed in 2022. Fewer than 30,000 of those were settled informally. That left 142,000 protests for the ARB to resolve through formal hearings.
Formal hearings can’t begin until Notices of Appraised Values have been issued by TCAD (typically in mid-April); the window for filing protests has closed (around mid-May); and TCAD staff assembles evidence and provides hearing notices 15 days before scheduled hearings. That means formal hearings usually can’t begin before early June.
it would be physically impossible for the ARB to plow through hearings for the 142,000 formal protests between early June and the July 20th certification deadline. In fact, as the Bulldog reported, the certification deadline was missed in 2014, 2015, 2019, and 2020, by as little as a few weeks to as much as 10 weeks.
To resolve this problem, TCAD intervenes before agents have gone through formal protest hearings and offers a specific reduction for each parcel on the agent’s long list of client properties. Agents can accept the offers, dicker for a better deal (though TCAD discourages it), or reject the offers and wait their turn for formal hearings.
Accepted offers are executed via Joint Motions to Dispose of Protests and Request for Agreed Orders, also known as Top Line Settlements.
The Austin Bulldog’s investigative report published December 13, 2021, provided an in-depth explanation of how the appraisal district executed massive rounds of deal-cutting with some 50 agent firms representing property owners who had filed formal protests. The certification deadline was met in 2021 when an all-time high of more than 98,000 protests were settled through Top Line Agreements.
TCAD’s strategy going forward obviously is to rely less and less on the ARB to settle protests—hence a 40 percent reduction in ARB members—and work even harder to execute those Top Line agreements.
For 2022 the TCAD board approved a budget of $1,630,425 for an ARB of 200 members. For 2023 the board approved a budget of $1,121,995 for 100 ARB members. Given the board’s decision to authorize 74 ARB members in 2023 the budget could be reduced even more.
Wanted: Taxpayer Liaison Officer
TCAD has posted a job opening for someone to take over the job that for the last five years has been held by Martin Wilbanks.
Chief Appraiser Crigler told the board members that she likes to go out every four or five years to take applications for the Taxpayer Liaison Officer’s position. The deadline for applications, although not stated in the job posting, is mid-January, she said.
The board formed a subcommittee that will review applications and select a slate of candidates to be reviewed by the whole board, with the goal of selecting someone by February, Crigler said.
Wilbanks told the Bulldog in a telephone interview today that he will be reapplying for the job.
He noted that the Taxpayer Liaison Officer is selected by and reports to the board of directors—not to the chief appraiser and not to the ARB. “The position is critically important to give property owners an independent voice they can talk to,” Wilbanks said.
That the position is needed is attested by the increasing number of property owners who have contacted Wilbanks. In 2021, he was contacted by 795 property owners, up from 286 in 2020, the Bulldog reported. He said he’s had even more calls in 2022, but he was unable to provide numbers because for the past few weeks he has had no access to records because of the ransomware attack.
The job has been handled through an annual contract and Wilbanks said his current contract ends December 31st. For four years he was paid $20,000 a year. Then, at his request, his 2022 contract was increased to $30,000, or $2,500 a month. That’s the figure cited by Crigler in the board meeting.
Ransomware attack mostly resolved
Crigler told the board that the recent ransomware attack “never had any impact” on TCAD’s Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) software so that work continued. She said some dataset files were down and not thought to be infected but staff was taking it slowly.
Although the IT manager’s position is currently vacant, Crigler said the network manager “has stepped up and is doing that work. During the entire ransomware attack she has done an outstanding job.”
The IT manager is Tawnya Blaylock.
Chief appraiser’s review delayed
For at least the last decade TCAD’s board of directors has reviewed the chief appraiser’s annual performance each December. That didn’t happen this year.
Marya Crigler’s current contract was issued in December 2020 and will expire in December 2023.
TCAD board chair James Valadez told the Bulldog via email that Crigler’s “contract extends until December 2023, and a discussion on a renewal will occur at that time.
“The Board of Directors will adjust these plans, if necessary, in the event that the chief appraiser notifies us that they need to be adjusted.”
Crigler began her career at TCAD in January 1990 as an appraiser trainee at $6 an hour. She was named chief appraiser 21 years later in November 2011 with annual pay of $129,000. She was endorsed for the leadership post by both the man she succeeded as chief appraiser, Patrick Brown, and his predecessor, Art Cory, who held that post for 19 years.
In December 2021 the TCAD board increased Crigler’s pay to $235,000 and tacked on a merit bonus of 5 percent of her salary.
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]
TCAD Board of Directors meeting materials and agenda for December 12, 2022 (36 pages)
Taxpayer Liaison Officer job posting (3 pages)
Related Bulldog coverage:
Property value protests set new record, June 9, 2022
Appraised home values jump more than 50 percent, April 19, 2022
TCAD asking $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