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Tax payers protest appraisal hikes

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

Thirty-seven property owners and residents from Bandera River Ranch subdivision organized themselves in front of the Bandera County Appraisal District to protest increases in their property appraisals last Wednesday, May 24 — one week before the deadline to file a protest for 2017. All of the protesters filed a written “Property Tax Protest and Appeal” through the standard, lay-person-friendly process which is required and provided for by law. Some of the protesters, however, underscored their written protest by standing on the sidewalk with signs and placards, inspiring some motorists to honk their horns or pull into the parking lot and find out what the residents were protesting.
William Condry, who is not a resident of Bandera River Ranch subdivision, was one of the drive-by drop-in protesters. When he saw the crowd at the County Appraisal District, he quickly pulled over and expressed his concern.
“A lot of us are getting upset with the ratchet effect,” Condry said. “It’s (taxes) continually going up, up, up! It’s really becoming burdensome.”
The Bandera River Ranch residents and protesters articulated to anybody who would listen several specific problems they have with the tax appraisal process. By far the biggest complaint with the recent appraisals are what the residents feel are excessive hikes in property tax appraisals — as much as 500 percent per year. They say that these increases are puzzling and do not make sense.
Kathleen Price, for example, bought a piece of land with a house on it in June 2015. When she closed on the purchase, the land was appraised at $12,580 an acre. This year that same piece of land (not the house) is appraised at $61,000 acre.
“It’s the same house, it’s the same land! I haven’t even added a blade of grass,” Price said.
Most of the residents expressed exasperation with similar hikes in appraised values from one year to the next, which is another thing the Bandera River Ranch property owners are protesting: The frequency of appraisals. Most properties are reappraised every three years, but the appraisal district is appraising property in the Bandera River Ranch subdivision every year. Every year their property taxes go up.
One explanation for the annual appraisals is that the turnover rate of property sales in the Bandera River Ranch subdivision is much higher than property in other areas of the city, according to Wendy Garms, Bandera County Chief Appraiser.
Realtor Larry Wood agrees that sales activity is greater in Bandera River Ranch than in other areas of the city, but he disagrees that the volume of sales in the subdivision justifies annual appraisals.
“We’re feeling unjustly persecuted,” Wood said. “River Ranch property owners are experiencing undo scrutiny for no reason.”
Phillip Hedley agrees. “We’re being unfairly taxed and we’re being reviewed every year,” Hedley said. “It’s (the property) only worth what it sells for.”
Doug Darnell, another Bandera River Ranch resident, constructed a spreadsheet with 2 years of sales data and discovered that most of the subdivision’s property sold between $7,500 and $20,000, for lots that are slightly larger than a ½ acre. Yet, his land is appraised at $42,000 – which represents an increase of 70 percent since 2015.
Andy Scheri owns and lives in an 1,800–square-foot house that sits on .63 acres and she thinks her appraisals are not reasonable or realistic.
“I understand that the appraisals need to be based on fair market value, and I’m all for paying my share of taxes — I want to pay my share of taxes. … But I would never be able to able to sell my house for the amount it’s appraised for,” Scheri said.
Chief appraiser Wendy Garms encourages residents to discuss these concerns with her or her staff. “Nobody knows your property better than you,” Garms said. “If there something you think I should know about your property, come tell me. I can’t fix a problem if I don’t know about it.”
Phillip Hedley suggested with some sarcasm that the appraisal board is basing increases on “imaginary numbers” when in fact the Texas Property Tax Code requires the appraisal district to appraise property at its fair market value on Jan. 1 each year.
“If they’re using some sort of math, I’d like to know about it,” Wood said. “Bandera has some of the highest taxes in the state. That’s not a good distinction for us… It hurts our resale value, too,” Wood added.
Real Estate agent Larry Wood’s home sits between two lots that are essentially the same in every way. One of those lots is appraised at $11,995 and the other lot is appraised at $25,660. That discrepancy suggests a need to reevaluate what the fair market value is for those lots.
A fair market value is a price — a value — that would be agreed upon by both a buyer who wants as low a price as possible, and a seller who wants as high a price as possible. (Property taxes are determined by subtracting exemptions from the fair market value.)
“We work hard to get the values right,” Garm said. “We have a lot of information here. Come in and talk with us.”
Bruce and Nancy Butler said that they filed their protest with the Appraisal District and they are glad they did. They said that the staff is helpful and pleasant, but the circumstances are still frustrating.
“If they know the average lot sells for about $15,000, how can you (they) slap us with a $36,000 appraisal?” Bruce Butler asked.
Even though the staff never answered that question specifically, why it happens, the couple agrees it is definitely worth challenging the appraisal and talking with the appraisal staff.
Kathleen Price agrees. “They are very nice (people) to deal with. It’s a very knowledgeable staff. They will work with you,” Price said.
“Misinformation is the worse possible thing,” Garms said. “If it (your appraisal) is wrong, I want to fix it.”