Falls County residents question property tax increases
Falls County property owners have begun receiving their property tax statements, which were sent out May 1.
Residents across the county have seen a significant increase in their appraised property values and therefore increased property tax liability. Prior to 2018, some properties in the county had not seen an increase in years.
During the monthly appraisal board meeting, a small group of citizens came out to voice their concerns.
““I would like to know why such emphasis was placed on applying the $6,000 homestead utility improvement, while ignoring the out-of-date reappraisals,” stated Harvey Bates, who is a Rosebud resident. “Some of which have not been done since 2008.”
The homestead utility improvement increase pertains to whether or not a property has utilities (gas lines, sewer/septic system/etc) or not, according to Chief Appraiser Andrew Hahn. All properties with these improvements to the land were subject to an $6,000 increase within the full appraisal, which emcompasses a review of the whole property.
““We don’t have any more comments about that,” stated Hahn, ending the conversation. “We are doing our job and the comptroller checks every other time.”
Bates also questioned the outcome of the “county-district retirement mishap” along with information pertaining to how the situation impacted Falls County taxpayers. He was directed to the Falls County Commissioners Court on the impact to taxpayers and was told to submit an open records request for the information on the outcome of the retirement mishap.
His wife, Cherri Bates, questioned the reasoning behind citizens being denied contacting board members outside of meetings.
“I called Ms. Terry, the chairman of the board, and she didn't have the information either,” she said, recalling the events following her research for the information. According to Mrs. Bates, when Byrleen Terry reached out to the appraisal district to get the information, she was then told that the information would be kept confidential.
"Why am I being denied the ability to contact a member of the Board of Directors?" the property owner inquired.
“The meetings are open and you’re welcome to give your comments there,” Terry responded during the meeting.
Rusty Burns, who lives in west Falls County near Bruceville-Eddy, had questions about Appraisal Review Board hearings concerning COVID-19 procedures.
She referenced an advertisement placed in both Falls County newspapers on May 6, noting that the information was inconsistent with what was on the website. She brought forth comments made by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 8, which support that in-person ARB meetings could not be denied if requested.
“You can do that,” Hahn responded. “It may postpone your taxes, but that’s up to you.”
“Just put it in your protest that you want to have a face-to-face meeting with the ARB,” he continued.
She also voiced that during her last ARB meeting in Falls County, board members were overwhelmed by the amount of evidence brought before them.
“The lack of knowledge of the people on the board; they do the best they can,” she said. “But there’s no way they can understand all of this.”
Burns was reminded that there are levels past the ARB to speak to if necessary, and that all involved are volunteers in their position.
After public comments concluded, financial reports were reviewed for both March and April. As of April 30, a third of the way through the year, the Appraisal District has used 39.65 percent of their total budget for 2020. About 26 percent of the personnel budget has been used, along with 22 percent of the operating budget, 49 percent of the contract services budget, 1 percent of the capital outlay budget, and 3 percent of the professional services budget.
Encumbered and bank account funds total $504,570 and $725,601.34, respectively. After a couple small questions, the board approved the reports as presented unanimously.
Legal services for the Appraisal District and a separate council for the ARB were approved from Pritchard & Abbott, Inc and Armstrong & Armstrong.
A vacancy on the review board was also discussed, as one of the members named in February stepped down from his position. Beth Mullins suggested Cynthia Derry, who has previously expressed interest. The item was tabled to look for additional candidates to choose from.
Chief Hahn updated the board on the state of phone troubles and the upcoming budget before entering into a no-action executive session.
When switching phone companies, the old company cut off service to the lines instead of porting them to AT&T as agreed. The district was forced to wait until lines turned back on and ported correctly. He stated that employees are having trouble programming the new system, but are using personal cell phones and emailing to continue moving forward.
“We’re trying to make up for the problems we’re having with the phone system, and we should get that resolved shortly,” he said. “We’re working with them to try to get it fixed.”
The budget for 2020 should be ready by mid-June, and will be sent to all involved entities by then. There is expected to be a public hearing in August, as the budget must be approved by Sept. 1.
The biennial Appraisal Plan report, prepared during even years, will follow the same schedule as above.
The next Appraisal District board meeting is currently scheduled for June 18. Access to the agenda and more information on the Falls County Appraisal District can be found at fallscad.net.