Property Taxes and You
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
April 11, 2002

Last Friday I served on a panel at the invitation of the First Friday Forum, a local think-tank, to speak on the issue of "Tax Equity at the Bexar Appraisal District".  As an elected member of one of the two or three jurisdictions that sent a small message by actually lowering the effective tax rate, I felt good about Bexar County.  As can be expected however, any time a public official talks about taxes, the subject is likely to get heated.  It did.  But I came away inspired with the dedicated citizens who took the time to come and learn as well as share with me their thoughts about the Bexar Appraisal District.

First off, it is important to know that the Bexar Appraisal District (BAD) is not a part of your Bexar County government.  We do however, select a representative, as do the "big dogs" of local taxing jurisdictions---Northside, San Antonio and Northeast I.S.D.'s along with the City of San Antonio, to the Appraisal Board. 

Equity and market value are the cornerstones of all good property appraisals.  State law and to a much lesser extent, human nature work against both.

In my opinion, most of the struggle encountered in making for equity in appraising at BAD has to do with State Law.  Not that BAD cannot improve.  Every one of us and every one of our governmental agencies could stand improvement and that is the way it will always be.  The problem arises when we believe that there is no room for improvement.

One of the most recurrent experiences I have observed in property appraisals is ingrained in human nature.  For example, when one holds property, especially commercial property, one fights for its lowest possible appraisal.  When one wishes to sell, one fights for its highest possible sales price.  This is a great reason why it appears that public entities are purchasing properties for outlandish prices.

State law says that the BAD Chief Appraiser must appraise 100% of all property on the rolls as of January 1 of each year.  The problem is that certain properties elude the appraisal process.  Texas is one of the four or five states that have no state law requiring mandatory sales reporting on new or improved property.

To remedy this, the legislature should pass a mandatory sales disclosure law.  The commercial side of the Appraisal house is where the real difficulty lies.  BAD is left with informally asking various sources about value and looking at rent-rolls where available.  Litigation and discovery provide information, but that is available in the very small minority of cases that end up in litigation.  As a result of the illusive information regarding commercial properties and their respective sales, relative to residential properties, the residential property owner is left with carrying a disproportionate share of the property tax load. 

Another law that would help is an enforcement provision to strengthen reportage through a mandatory rendering provision with respect to business personal property.  Audit power should also be provided by law to Appraisal Districts just as the State Comptroller has with respect to the sales taxpayers.  These powers ensure that those eluding the appraisal process do not unduly burden those paying taxes.

There are properties across the County in the unincorporated areas where no permitting takes place as well.  Texas Counties have no permitting authority. 

Residential homesteads appraisals cannot be raised over 10% per year.  However, this is a cumulative amount.  So, if for three years, the property has not been reappraised, if warranted by the market, as much as 30% on a cumulative basis could be assessed.  But if the market went up 100%, the most that the property could be increased is 30% in a three-year period.

If the property is commercial, personal or newly improved residential homestead property or if the property sells, this property is not subject to the 10% cap rule.  This means that rental properties do not have a cap.  Perhaps there is room for capping properties other than residential homestead.

For more information on BAD, you may reach them at 224-8511 or at their web address, www.bcad.org (External Site).

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