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

Opinion: Can Republicans and Dems reach compromise on immigration?

Rep. Kevin Yoder has two daughters, ages 2 and 4. A busy schedule of political obligations requires the Kansas Republican to be separated at times from those precious little people. It’s a feeling many parents know. Those two girls were on his mind recently when we spoke by phone to discuss the fates of thousands of would-be immigrant children...
Letters to the editor: June 18, 2018
Letters to the editor: June 18, 2018

I’ve read stories about babies being torn from their mothers while breastfeeding — and children being taken away to bathe, never to return. I read of a father who hanged himself after being separated from his wife and three-year-old. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and Rep. John Carter all claim to be Christians. They claim to represent...
Opinion: Singapore summit was a historic snooker

The headline writers adore the word “historic.” It was ubiquitous in reporting on the April meeting between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in. Kim shook Moon’s hand and then guided him over the military demarcation line to step onto North Korean territory. This prompted swoons. If that was a bona fide gesture of peaceful intent, time will...
Opinion: A quisling and his enablers

This is not a column about whether Donald Trump is a quisling — a politician who serves the interests of foreign masters at his own country’s expense. Any reasonable doubts about that reality were put to rest by the events of the past few days, when he defended Russia while attacking our closest allies. We don’t know Trump’s...
Letters to the editor: June 17, 2018
Letters to the editor: June 17, 2018

Father’s Day for me is sweet and bitter. I soak up the love and appreciation, the hugs and treats. But I also feel the father’s duty to protect my daughters from harm. We fathers are rapidly losing control over that. I feel for the California fathers whose children’s homes burned in wildfires last year. I feel for the Puerto Rican...
More Stories