Commentary: To fix property tax problem, start with appraisal boards

Property taxes in Texas are a lot like dealing with a fresh wound.

Every year, we vent our rage because our property tax bills go up. Lately, they go up a lot. We’re wounded yet again.

But serious, fundamental change isn’t happening. Why? Because we’re underthinking the problem and rushing to find a Band-Aid for the wound.

Caps on annual increases and sales price disclosure on commercial properties, for example, ignore the heart of the problem: the appraisal system and the appraisal review boards.

The appraisal review boards play a critical role. When a property owner isn’t satisfied with the appraised value and hasn’t been able to negotiate an acceptable amount with the appraisal district, the review board is the next step.

As an attorney who has represented hundreds of property owners in appraisal review hearings, I can tell you that many appraisal review board members simply are not qualified to handle complex residential or commercial valuations. Setting a value on a $75,000 condo is in no way comparable to doing so on an $80 million commercial property. Complex valuations should be handled by qualified appraisers or experts.

For example, one appraisal review board member in a hearing once said to me he would not agree to an exemption because he believed the nonprofit was expensing “personal” expenses through the business, despite the profit and loss statement clearly listing personnel expenses. Those are two entirely different words with profoundly different meanings.

That wasn’t an isolated example. To get more accurate appraisals, we need to spend time and money educating appraisal review board members. In turn, they will be better equipped to make critical decisions.

The second issue is that those same board members are also completely unaccountable in our current system. Their deliberations and decisions should be just as transparent as any other public agency that has direct decision-making authority over public money. Texans should demand that appraisal review boards publish the voting records of every member, making it very easy to know whether any member is simply a rubber stamp for their local appraisal district.

We could add even more objectivity to the appraisal review system if we allowed the property owner the option to pay a fee to have their appraisal protest heard outside of their own county. This would create true separation of powers between appraisal districts and appraisal review boards – and at the same time would be a cost-positive option for the state.

Currently, there is virtually no separation. The appraisal district selects, pays and supervises the appraisal review board members. Is it just me or doesn’t that system encourage the board to be biased in favor of the appraisal district, whose vested interest is clearly tilted toward the entities that rely on property taxes?

Fixing Texas’ property tax problem starts with the appraisal review boards. Informing and educating members — and creating a system of accountability — are the first issues we should address. Once we dress the wound, we can work on fixing the scar.

Patel is the managing partner of Patel Gaines in San Antonio.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Support Texas ban on commercial trapping of wild turtles
Commentary: Support Texas ban on commercial trapping of wild turtles

In the past, when you paddled the many waterways of Texas, nearly every river bend provided a reminder that it’s home to more kinds of lizards, snakes and turtles than any other state. For freshwater turtles alone, there are 28 different types found here. Unfortunately, many of these are in decline. Now, scanning the riverbanks and fallen logs...
Letters to the editor: Aug. 22, 2018
Letters to the editor: Aug. 22, 2018

Beto O’Rourke is right that health care is a moral issue, but the issue remains complex, because people operate within differing moral frameworks. Many Texans believe they deserve to keep what they earn, and shouldn’t be forced to subsidize health care for others. Though this moral principle has its merits, it ignores the fact that many...
Opinion: Bad men, but good presidents

With the continuing hysteria about Donald Trump’s presidency, a few questions come to mind. The first: Can a bad man become a good president? The second: Does one’s being a good man guarantee he’ll be a good president? Third: Does having a good president require a good man? Is there any evidence of Lord Acton’s argument that...
Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke will talk about your head at Austin Book Arts Center fundraiser
Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke will talk about your head at Austin Book Arts Center fundraiser

  Austin Book Arts Center, which lets you, the reader and lover of books, engage in the art of bookmaking, has announced its third annual fall fundraiser. The shindig will feature KOOP’s Greg Ciotti as master of ceremonies,  Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke of KUT’s Two Guys on Your Head fame will discuss your brain on books...
Facebook comments: Aug. 21, 2018
Facebook comments: Aug. 21, 2018

As reported by the American-Statesman’s Shonda Novak, the French retailer Chanel is planning to build a manufacturing facility in Austin, according to county deed records and documents filed with the city. Deed records show the company purchased 50 acres east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport through a real estate holding company it controls...
More Stories