Homeowners Question High Tax Bills

Tarrant Tax Assessor cautions there are a lot of myths about why tax bills are rising

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called property tax reform his top priority of the ongoing special legislative session in Austin.

This past weekend, a state Senate committee approved Senate Bill 1, which would lower the rate at which cities or counties would have to hold an election to authorize property tax increases, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The current rate increase that would set off an election — called a "rollback rate" — is 8 percent. The bill would lower it to 4 percent and call for an automatic election to approve the tax increase if the rollback rate was exceeded.

But if you are looking to Austin to lessen your tax bill you may wind up being disappointed, according to Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright.

“What they are doing is not going to affect [your tax bill]. It will slow the increase. It is not going to be tax relief,” Wright said. “But I have to say this was almost inevitable because the level of frustration that taxpayers have is so high.”

Wright noted that much of that frustration comes from an apparent lack of accountability at the local level.

For example, elected officials might pass the buck on a homeowner’s increased tax bill to the local appraisal district, whose annual tax bills have shot upward in recent years by tens of thousands of dollars for the typical home, according to Wright. And that local leader will note that they did not raise taxes because they voted for a budget that maintained the previous year’s tax rate, Wright said.

Both of those excuses are myths, according to Wright.

While it is true that appraisal district letters have made homeowners’ eyes bulge in recent years, that agency is merely responding to market value, Wright said.

But even then, many homeowners are skeptical of the appraisals they are receiving.

Camille Quinn, of north Arlington, told NBC DFW she received an appraisal of her property for $295,000, when an independent appraisal of her home set the market value at $250,000.

“There is no way our home is valued at what they were trying to appraise it for,” Quinn said. “Where do they get these numbers from? Because that appraisal came in way higher than there is any way.”

Quinn protested her appraisal to the Tarrant Appraisal District review board, a process she said was intimidating at first but proved to be surprisingly easy and efficient.

After five minutes spent presenting the three-member panel with multiple comparable properties in her neighborhood, Quinn said the review board revised the official assessment of her home to the $250,000 Quinn’s own appraiser set the value at.

“We were lucky to have been willing to pay $400 to have an appraisal done just to fight the taxes,” Quinn said. “Sometimes it is worth it. For us it was.”

Wright’s other myth, regarding local leaders who will make the claim, ‘I didn’t raise your rate, therefore I didn’t raise your taxes,’ is one he claims to hear often.

“That’s complete nonsense,” Wright said about that argument. “The benchmark each year is not last year’s tax rate. The benchmark is this year’s effective rate. That is the rate that would generate the same amount of taxes as last year on the same property.”

By that logic, if an elected body adopts a tax rate that is greater than the effective rate they are raising taxes.

“There is only one thing that drives taxes and that’s the reason we have taxes – government spending,” Wright said about what he believes to be the most effective area to target when the goal is reducing the tax bill that property owners must pay. “The more government spends the more revenue they have to have.”

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