The Goliad County Appraisal District had a record 807 property owners protest their valuations. Out of the 807, 633 were settled before going to the appraisal review board (ARB). Of the 27 that went to the ARB, 14 assessments were reduced.
Miller said the appraisal district was able to gain more sales information on county properties this year to make more accurate valuations. He said county properties had been undervalued in years past, causing the taxable values to rise as much as 75 percent for some property owners.
“Unfortunately, Texas is a non-disclosure state. You do not have to tell the person how much you bought or sold a home for,” Miller said. “That makes it very difficult for the appraisal districts at times to value property.
“In some years, we might not get a lot of sales information and the prior five to six years that has been the case. This past year for 2014, we were very fortunate to gain a lot of sales information in the county. What has happened is for the prior five or six years our county has really been undervalued because we just did not have the information to raise values.”
Charles Watts, who owns a home in the Lakewood subdivision, saw his assessment increase 62 percent from 2013. He protested the valuation and said he was first offered a 3-percent reduction by Miller. Watts elected to meet with the ARB and was scheduled for a 9 a.m. appointment on July 15.
“Eighteen protestors were in the lobby and the sign-in sheet showed 120 protestors were to meet with ARB,” Watts said. “I was shuffled into a private room and told they had reconsidered my valuation and and offered almost a 50-percent reduction of the increased assessed value. I refused the offer. After waiting four hours, I finally met with the ARB. Some protestors had to leave because they had taken off work and could not wait for hours to meet with the ARB.”
Watts said he felt the appraisal district intentionally made the process difficult to force property owners to concede.
“The appraisal office knows most people will never protest because of the lost time, expense and hassles it takes,” Watts said. “I think the Goliad County Appraisal Office has placed an unfair burden on taxpayers.”
Miller agreed that the protest process needs to be improved.
“It can seem a little bit overwhelming,” Miller said. “I, myself, had to protest my my property down in Nueces County this year. You have to take time off from work.
“We are looking at re-evaluating some of the things that we can do. For instance, one of the things that the district needs to do is offer the opportunity for property owners to come into the office on Saturday. Under the state code, we can offer that. We can also offer one evening where we hold ARB hearings from 6 to 8 p.m. for people who cannot get off of work. In addition, we will be offering an electronic protest on our website. You can actually go online and file your protest and upload images. We will take a look at that and then offer you a value over the Internet. We will send you an email.”
Homeowners received their notices from the appraisal district around the first week in May. Property owner have 30 days after receiving the notice to file a protest. Once the protest is filed, a hearing is scheduled with the ARB, which is made up of county residents and independent of the appraisal district. Anytime prior to the hearing, homeowners can meet with the appraisal district to come up with a mutually agreeable value.
“We stress to property owners to bring us pictures, estimates, any documentation of anything that requires work,” Miller said. “It doesn’t have to be something that is already done. It can be something that needs to be done to the home. We can determine the value we can take off according to the amount of work that needs to be done.
“Once the ARB sets the value, a determination order is sent to the property owner. If they are still unhappy, they can litigate. They can file a case in district court and sue the district or, if you are a residential homeowner, you can go into binding arbitration.”
Miller said county property owners should not see a substantial increase in next year’s valuations now that the properties are closer to the market value.
“Absolutely not,” Miller said. “We saw a correction of the market because for so many years this district just didn’t have the information that it was able to garner this year. Next year, we’ll likely see values increase because the housing trend is still going in that way. But are we looking at 35, 65, 75 percent increases? Absolutely not. If anything, we would see something single digit.”
Miller has certified the rolls and the taxing entities in the county are now working to establish their tax rates.