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Chief appraiser brings good news

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Chief Appraiser Wendy Grams of the Central Appraisal District of Bandera County presented a budget that was good news to the Bandera ISD board of trustees at their regular meeting Monday, July 8. Unlike last year's budget, which required an increase of more than 10 percent, this year's CAD budget is less than one percent higher than last year and will actually ask for a smaller allocation from BISD.

The CAD is funded by the government entities for which it does property appraisals. Each entity pitches in to the common pot to have the valuations it needs to properly tax its constituents.

"The overall increase is less than one percent, .86 percent," said Grams to the BISD board. By using the CAD's fund balance as part of the budget, the allocation assessed to the school district will actually be a little less than last year.

"By law, we can't keep a fund balance," Grams said in an interview. "We have an accumulation of $17,000 and we're applying $5,000 to the 2013 budget and the remaining $12,000 will be applied to the 2013-14 budget."

Gram explained to the BISD board that 87 bills passed by the 2013 Texas Legislature affect appraisal districts. "House Bill 585 especially will increase parts of the CAD's budget, placing more requirements on the Appraisal Review Board, including the cost of an attorney."

One unexpected increase comes in the form of postage. "House Bill 585 requires us to use certified mail in many cases. That costs about $7 for a couple of pages. Some applications and appeals can be many pages, costing $10 to $12 to mail." Grams said she hopes some of that increase has been mitigated by her renegotiation of the CAD's postage machine contract to discount those prices.

The salary line for the CAD also showed an increase, due in large part to training completed by the staff. "We now have four licensed appraisers," Gram noted with pride.

Several line items in the budget decreased significantly from last year. "We had to install a new air conditioning unit last year, so this year we are seeing a decrease in our utility bills of $100 to $150 per month."

Software licensing and server maintenance were done last year and only have to be done every two years.

"We're making sure we're in legislative compliance," said Grams. "I don't have any deviation from the laws."

In 2009, the Legislature required larger appraisal districts to have the capability to offer on-line appeals and by 2013, all CADs had to have that capability. "It helps people who are out of the district," said Grams. "We can send out notices and accept protests on-line. The taxpayer is first notified by mail and the letter explains the on-line option."

Doing business on-line will no doubt save the district money in the future. However, as Grams explained to the BISD board, of 6,000 qualified property owners, only one used the on-line option this year.

"I imagine more will use it in the future," said Grams, by phone. "It's a matter of educating the public."

One item Grams did not have in her 2013-14 budget was the expense of having an in-house IT (Information Technology) staffer. "Appraisal work is more and more technology based," said Grams, "and we will need our own IT person soon."

In other good news, Grams told the school board that the CAD would be crediting BISD with around $7,500 of surplus funds for the fourth quarter. She also announced that the CAD had recently been audited and received an unqualified opinion, indicating no deficiencies.

Grams was appointed chief appraiser in September of 2011 after serving almost a year as the interim CA. She is a registered property appraiser and a certified chief appraiser.