WAXAHACHIE — For those dissatisfied with the latest property valuations issued by the Ellis County Central Appraisal District, the initial deadline to file a protest with the Appraisal Review Board has indeed passed.
However, that does not mean home, land or business owners in Ellis County cannot still file a formal protest.
The initial May 1 deadline was established as soon as the Ellis County Central Appraisal District (ECAD) mailed approximately 57,500-appraisal notices dated April 1. It is not the final deadline, though, and Ellis County Chief Appraiser Kathy Rodrigue said Tuesday afternoon that it never was intended to be the end-all, be-all.
According to Subsection (a)(1) of Chapter 41.44 in the Texas Tax Code, “the property owner initiating the protest must file a written notice of the protest with the appraisal review board having authority to hear the matter protested before May 1 or not later than the 30th day after the date that notice to the property owner was delivered,” or whichever is later.
In fact, according to Rodrigue, who is in her 20th year as the Ellis County Chief Appraiser, the ECAD has received 3,826 of the 5,010 protests filed by residents post-May 1. The total is already approaching the five-year high of 6,301 protests filed set in 2016.
The continued flow of protest submitted via mail, email or in person is thanks to Subsection (a)(2), which states a property owner must protest the valuation “before June 1 or not later than the 30th day after the date that notice was delivered to the property owner as provided by Section 25.19 in connection with any other property, whichever is later.”
"We are one of the few districts who send those letters out early, there are some others in the metro area that do, but not all of them do. We want to get those letters out as early as we can, and we want to deal when as many protests as early as we can so that we can get them resolved,” Rodrigue said. “[…] The law says the deadline is 30 days from the letter being sent and we put that deadline on there, but the law also says we are able to accept those protest prior to June 1. We have no intention of not excepting a protest, we are just following the deadlines that were given in law to put on there."
THE FACTS OF THE MATTER
Social media was sent ablaze over the weekend with claims of governmental conspiracy theories or an attempt by the local taxing entities to pull the wool, which, according to the letter of the law, is not the case.
Because the ECAD mailed letters of notice to property owners on April 1 — as opposed to waiting until May 1 or later — Ellis County property owners were afforded the opportunity to first meet the 30-day deadline and then a second 31-day opportunity to submit a protest in accordance with the state tax code, Rodrigue explained in an April 26 email correspondence.
"I believe the goal of the law is to allow all property owners at least 30 days to protest, regardless of the date the notice of appraised value is mailed," stated Rodrigue. "Those property owners who receive their notice at the first of April have an additional opportunity to protest for another 30 days up to May 31 because of Section 41.44(b-1), but it does not change the deadline stated in 41.44(a)(1). All other property owners whose notices go out May 1 or after only get 30 days to file their protest."
In the notice of appraisal values mailed to Ellis County residents on April 1 and printed Sunday, April 9 in the Daily Light, Rodrigue explained the five basic rules set forth by the Texas Constitution for setting property taxes.
1. Generally, all property must be taxed based on its current market value. That’s the price it would sell for when both buyer and seller seek the best price and neither is under pressure to buy or sell. The Texas Constitution provides certain exceptions to this rule, such as the use of “productivity values” for agricultural and timberland. This means that the land is taxed based on the value of what it produces, such as crops and livestock, rather than its sale value. This lowers the tax bill for such land.
2. Taxation must be equal and uniform. No single property or type of property should pay more than its fair share. The property taxes you pay are based on the value of property you own. If for instance, your property is worth half as much as the property owned by your neighbor (after any exemptions that apply), your tax bill should be one-half of your neighbor’s. This means that uniform appraisal is very important.
3. Each property in a county must have a single appraised value. This means that the various local governments to which you pay property taxes cannot assign different values to your property; all must use the same value. This is guaranteed by the use of county appraisal districts.
4. All property is taxable unless federal or state law exempts it from the tax. These exemptions may exclude all or part of your property’s value from taxation.
5. Property owners have a right to reasonable notice of increases in their appraised property value.
“Rules 1 and 2 set the value standards that appraisal districts must meet. We must reflect what is happening in the market each year and a willing buyer, a willing seller and the laws of supply and demand are driving a very dynamic market this year. We have considered sales in each market area of Ellis County and we have estimated values to align with each area’s market," explained Rodrigue in the letter. "Property owners who disagree with the appraised value of their property, the exemptions or any other action by the appraisal district, have the right to appeal to the Ellis Appraisal Review Board (ARB). The ARB is an independent panel of citizens responsible for hearing and resolving property owner protests.
“The notice of appraised value includes instructions on how and when to file a protest, a protest form, and the Comptroller’s Property Taxpayer Remedies. The deadline for filing a protest with the ARB is May 31, 2017, or 30 days after the appraisal district mailed your notice of appraised value, whichever is later."
THE TRACK RECORD
The 2016 annual report compiled by the Ellis Central Appraisal District shows that the number of Appraisal Review Board (ARB) hearings has increased each year since 2013 after dropping from 266 hearings in 2012 to 173 the following year.
In 2016, the report states a total of 6,301 appeals were filed with 401 residents actually appearing for the ARB hearing, while 673 did not and 5,227 settled with the ECAD staff. Of those 401 homeowners who challenged the valuation of their home before the board, 132 had their appraisal adjusted. The report also noted the ARB sided with the central appraisal district in the remaining 269 cases.
“We have an informal process, which not all appraisal district do, to attempt to resolve those protest before they ever go to the appraisal review board,” said Rodrigue on Tuesday. “We typically resolve 85 to 90 percent [of protests] informally. It is our goal to serve Ellis County residents well, and we have no intention of trying to hide the ball or mislead people.”
Single-family residential valuations have been the most highly contest property types in each of the last five years, ranging from 1,555 in 2013 to 3,860 last year. The report also states land valuations have dropped every year since the high of 1,309 appeals in 2012, as there were 887 land valuations challenged in 2016. However, commercial and industrial valuations have increased in each of the last four years, up from 835 appeals in 2013 to 956 last year.
In each of the last five years, over 3,500 of all property tax disputes have been resolved with the ECAD staff and without the need to appear before the ARB. That number has increased from 3,550 in 2013 to 5,227 in 2016.
In total, the original $4,162,103,666 property valuation in 2016 dropped to $4,021,730,424 for a difference of negative-3.37 percent or $140,373,242. For reference, the valuation drop in 2015 was $296,342,436 (-6.72 percent), $129,280,131 (-3.30 percent) in 2014, $193,825,309 (-5.81 percent) in 2013 and $209,100,927 (-6.09 percent) in 2012.
Rodrigue acknowledged that there are some in the community who will question government entities for being government entities, but that her office has worked to be transparent and helpful to the community.
After initially closing May 1, the ECAD has reopened its eProtest portal until May 31 at midnight. Residents can still file a protest by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, in person at the ECAD office located at 400 Ferris Avenue in Waxahachie or by mail to PO Box 878 in Waxahachie. The latter three options were available to residents before the reopening of the eProtest portal.
“We have worked really, really hard to be good stewards. Is it frustrating (to have property taxes increase)? Yes. I understand that people’s taxes are escalating and even though values are going up rates are staying the same that their taxes are going up,” Rodrigue said. “If tax rates would come down then maybe people would have a better feeling about this. I would like for my value to be better on my home but because the tax rates remain the same it just means that I'm paying more and more taxes. We want everybody to file for the homestead exemptions and have every opportunity that they possibly can to reduce their taxes. But this is not a shenanigan, this is not us pulling a fast one, this is not us trying to be deceitful — this is just us trying to follow the law."
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith