May 11, 2020
Property owners in Texas are challenging property tax appraisals. Appraisal Districts are looking for ways to conduct in-person appraisal reviews remotely to remain within social distancing guidelines. The Galveston County Central Appraisal District mailed 130,000 property tax appraisals in April 2020. Most of the property values in the county increased during 2019, resulting in higher Galveston property tax bills. As a result, property tax review boards expect a large number of challenges this year.
Appraisal Districts are required by Texas property tax law to appraise property at fair market value, but this value is calculated based on the property sales in 2019. The calculations do not include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic or economic recession because both events happened after the cutoff date for the data. Next year’s property tax appraisals will reflect these economic impacts, but Texas property owners are challenging this year’s calculations.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Galveston property tax appraisal district conducted reviews in person. Tax assessors like Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson held workshops to show residents how to challenge property value appraisals. After submitting the required paperwork, the property owners present appeals in-person before the appraisal review board.
Review board meetings begin in late May. Government offices may be open by this time. Still, the appraisal review board is searching for ways to conduct reviews remotely with Zoom Video Conferencing or other remote video conferencing tools. Online meetings would provide an alternative if county government offices are not yet open or need to close again.
As a precautionary measure to protect employees and citizens against the spread of COVID-19, county government officials are requesting that citizens not come into the office. Instead, property owners are encouraged to call the office with questions about appraisals, billing, and the repeal process.
However, remote meetings may not satisfy a Texans’ constitutional right to challenge taxes. Texas State Representative Mayes Middleton sent a letter to Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, requesting a legal opinion to determine if the denial of in-person property tax appeals is a violation of statutory due process rights. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry sent a letter to Paxton supporting Middleton’s request.
Texas property laws specify timelines, protest procedures, and the method of protest. Middleton argued that neither central appraisal district reviews nor remote hearings do not meet these specifications. Therefore, Middleton requested a property value rollback to the fair value determined for 2019 taxes.
Santa Fe Mayor Jason Tabor and City Manager Glen Adams sent letters to the appraisal review board requesting that it take direct action. Santa Fe property values increased 11 percent on average during 2019. Tabor and Adams asked the appraisal district to assume that the COVID-19 crisis reversed this increase, so all property values would remain the same as last year.