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Unfunded mandates bane of CAD's budget

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

As reported in the July 19 edition of the Bandera County Courier, Wendy Grams, chief appraiser of the Bandera County Central Appraisal District, has been making the rounds of local taxing entities, seeking funds with which to operate. Each entity pitches in to a common pot ensuring that it has the property valuations it needs for correct taxing of its constituents.

When Grams appeared before the Bandera Independent School District Board of Trustees with an increase of over 10 percent in her budget for fiscal year 2012-2013, President Dr. Barbara Skipper was taken aback. "We've had to cut (our budget) for the last three years, and will have to cut again next year," Skipper said. "We can't have line items that go up."

Grams made her same appeal to Bandera County Commissioners on Thursday, July 26. While commissioners did not particularly care for the 10.6 percent increase, they understood its necessity - having dealt with their own budget issues for the last month.

Gary Johnston and Randy MacNaughton, members of the Appraisal Review Board, accompanied Grams to commissioners court.

An audit conducted by Ede & Company, certified public accountants from Knippa, found, "As of Dec. 31, 2011, ... the year ended in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America." Additionally, the CAD refunded the county $12,720 last year.

For FY2012-2013, Grams said that Bandera County has 35,111 parcels with a 2012 Certified Taxable Value of $1,813,371,696. According to Grams, 310 properties are under protest with a value of $45,197,031. "The taxpayers' opinion of the value of their property under protest is $33,897,773," she said. "The value of the protested properties is 5 percent or less of the total appraised value of all other taxable properties." Currently 1.2 percent of the properties on the tax roll are being protested.

"Appraisals were 1.83 percent over the 2011 values," she said, "which is a good thing in today's market. Our land values are holding the same.

Increases are due to new improvements determined during physical inspections of the properties.

Increases are mostly due to new structures."

Regarding increases in the CAD budget, capital expenditures went from $4,000 to $15,775, which included upgrading the facility's air conditioning units, as well as replacing three workstations computers and printer-scanners to be in compliance with HB 1030.

"The 2009 Texas Legislature mandated that all appraisal districts have the ability to communicate online with property owners by 2013," Grams explained. "This requires new high speed software programs. The new air conditioning system maintains our investment." Upgrades to computer software increased the "Appraisal Software Support-Maintenance" line item from $23,255 to $56,242.

State-mandated educational and required customer service training necessitated another budget increase - from $19,606 in 2012 to $25,709 in 2013.

"Salary increases are due to re-writing of job descriptions, not for across-the-board salary increases," Grams said. However, six of her employees who have been at CAD for over five years will receive automatic longevity pay. Grams also told commissioners that CAD now has five registered appraisers.

County commissioners are fully aware of the fiduciary burden caused by unfunded mandates handed down by Austin legislators.

"In the last five year and a half years, county judges and commissioners in all 254 Texas counties have been required to attend 248 hours of educational conferences.

I see these mandates as causing county governments budget problems," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris. "We need to continue to tell legislators, 'Stop sending us unfunded mandates'."

Before the court unanimously approved the CAD budget, Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Keese thanked Grams for doing a good job.

Concurring, Judge Richard Evans noted, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, "Being a member (of the Appraisal Review Board) member is a thankless task, but at least they're well paid." They are in fact, unpaid.