It’s time for ev­ery­body to file a tax protest

DAVE LIEBER

The Dallas Morning News - - METRO & STATE - Twit­ter: @DaveLieber

Do you want im­me­di­ate prop­erty tax re­lief ? This year? Now? The Watch­dog has a plan. This doesn’t de­pend on the Texas Leg­is­la­ture to help us (it’s look­ing like it won’t). Lo­cal gov­ern­ments and school dis­tricts, as much as they might wish, can’t stop this ei­ther.

My idea is both le­gal and eth­i­cal. It’s easy for you to do. But it only works if enough of us jump in at the same time.

The 2017 plan is called “Ev­ery­body File a Protest.”

The gist is this: Usu­ally in the Dal­las-Fort Worth re­gion, on­ly1in 7 prop­erty own­ers file a tax protest with their county ap­praisal dis­trict. It’s so easy to do, es­pe­cially now that an owner can do it online be­fore the May 31dead­line.

The sys­tem is set up so all protests should be re­solved by July 20. As one prop­erty tax con­sul­tant ex­plained to me, from the May 31 protest dead­line to July 20 leaves only 35 busi­ness days to han­dle thou­sands of protests. If two, three or four times more own­ers file a protest than in the past, ap­praisal dis­tricts will be over­whelmed with work­loads like never be­fore. There’s noth­ing wrong with this. It’s your le­gal right as a Texan to file a protest ev­ery year, even if your taxes don’t go up, and even if your school taxes are frozen be­cause you’re a se­nior or dis­abled.

Sure, ap­praisal dis­tricts in large coun­ties of a mil­lion or more peo­ple can ask for an ex­ten­sion, but that would cre­ate prob­lems for all the cities, coun­ties, school dis­tricts, pub­lic col­leges and hospitals that are wait­ing. Th­ese lo­cal

gov­ern­ments take the fi­nal tax­able val­ues from the ap­praisal dis­trict and fig­ure out how much they can ex­tract from us be­fore we start toss­ing tea over the side of the boat.

Th­ese gov­ern­ments need to know as soon as pos­si­ble how much tax money they will have for the com­ing year. They re­ally can’t wait.

So what hap­pens? Af­ter many years of pok­ing and prod­ding the sys­tem to see what works, The Watch­dog be­lieves that ap­praisal dis­tricts will be un­der tremen­dous pres­sure to mass set­tle the in­creased num­ber of protests.

That’s how some prop­erty tax con­sul­tants for hire hope to do it. If one tax con­sul­tant comes in rep­re­sent­ing 300 protest­ing own­ers, the dis­trict isn’t go­ing to hold 300 hear­ings. From what I’ve seen, a dis­trict is likely to wave a magic wand and give the con­sul­tant an over­all de­crease for most or some­times every­one on the con­sul­tant’s list. Make it go away.

That’s what hap­pened to me last year. I didn’t think it was fair. But hir­ing a con­sul­tant worked. My ap­praised value was low­ered con­sid­er­ably with­out a hear­ing and with­out hav­ing to present any ev­i­dence.

‘Split­ting the dif­fer­ence’

Is my plan foolproof ?

Well, un­der the nor­mal protest load, one con­sul­tant told me that he es­ti­mates an ap­praiser must han­dle one case ev­ery 12 min­utes dur­ing the protest pe­riod. I be­lieve you’ll see a lot of “split­ting the dif­fer­ence” in deal-making. A home­owner says her or his prop­erty is worth one num­ber. An ap­praiser says an­other. They split down the mid­dle. Gotta make that dead­line. This “Ev­ery­body File a Protest” plan will not be looked upon kindly by county ap­praisal dis­tricts. It will stress lo­cal gov­ern­ments, which would see a de­cline in tax dol­lars as more peo­ple win more sav­ings in more protests. But if you fol­low The Watch­dog on this bat­tle plan, you’re not do­ing any­thing wrong. There are no reper­cus­sions to a home­owner who protests.

The Texas Prop­erty Tax­pay­ers’ Bill of Rights (yes, there is one) states, “You have the right to protest your prop­erty’s value.”

Fil­ing a protest can be done through an ap­praisal dis­trict’s web­site or in writ­ing (but not usu­ally by email or fax). Each county ap­praisal dis­trict has its own setup, so I won’t gen­er­al­ize.

Don’t wait un­til the May 31 dead­line be­cause if you need a com­puter PIN, that may take ex­tra time. To get this go­ing, in­form the dis­trict now that you’re protest­ing.

You can hire a prop­erty tax con­sul­tant, but you don’t need to. If you do, con­sider hir­ing one who only takes a fee if your tax value gets low­ered. Don’t pay a flat fee for fail­ure. (Check the Texas As­so­ci­a­tion of Prop­erty Tax Pro­fes­sion­als (taptp.org) web­site to start. You can watch in­struc­tional videos on the state comptroller’s web­site, too.

Here’s a cool part of my plan: If you don’t want to go to an ac­tual hear­ing, you don’t have to. Sit tight and wait for the ap­praisal dis­trict to of­fer a set­tle­ment to avoid a hear­ing. You can also can­cel a hear­ing at the last mo­ment.

Un­fair, un­fair, un­fair

What’s my mo­ti­va­tion? The sys­tem is un­fair, and this is a way to take a proper stand.

The sys­tem is un­fair be­cause sale prices are not pub­lic so the num­bers are of­ten guesses, not true re­flec­tions of the mar­ket.

The sys­tem is un­fair be­cause those who hire a con­sul­tant may have an ad­van­tage over those who don’t.

The sys­tem is un­fair be­cause state law places a 10 per­cent growth cap each year on tax­able value. So what hap­pens? Many prop­er­ties jump the al­lowed 10 per­cent year af­ter year. Did you get a 10 per­cent raise at work?

The sys­tem is un­fair be­cause busi­nesses of­ten don’t pay their fair share.

The sys­tem is un­fair be­cause the wealth­i­est homes are of­ten un­der­val­ued for tax pur­poses when com­pared with their true worth.

The sys­tem is un­fair be­cause ap­prais­ers don’t go into your house and see what’s ac­tu­ally go­ing on. You can make that work to your ad­van­tage, and I’ll show you how in part two of this se­ries.

Com­ing Sun­day: Easy strate­gies you can use to file a protest and win.

Staff writer Ma­rina Tra­han Martinez con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Check out The Watch­dog on NBC5 at 11:20 a.m. Mon­days, talk­ing about mat­ters im­por­tant to you.

Watch­dog@dal­las­news.com dal­las­news.com/watch­dog

DAVE LIEBER

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