The chief appraiser for the Bell County Tax Appraisal District heard some heated questions from Harker Heights City Council members during his presentation at Tuesday’s council workshop.
Billy White, who has been the chief appraiser since January, explained that the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County (TADBC) is tasked with valuing and collecting taxes for over 172,500 parcels each year that includes six school districts, 12 cities and 10 other entities.
Determining the appraised value of property takes into consideration land valuation, the value of structures and improvements and other factors, he said.
With thousands of Bell County residents reported huge increases in property appraisals this year and others complaining of unequal valuations in the same neighborhood, council members asked for some answers.
Councilwoman Jennifer McCann began the questioning by saying, “I’m just gonna be blunt. If an appraisal on a house goes up $40,000 one year and again a second year but on the other hand the house of a neighbor down the street goes up just $15,000 that seems so drastic.”
White said, “Part of that could have been that we’re catching up, perfecting our models or other adjustments. My response is that if they have an issue to come talk to us.”
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Blomquist asked White concerning how he described the catch up process.
“Is that based on that your modeling wasn’t right or something you were trying to correct to bring up the values so they were on par?” Blomquist asked.
According to White, the catch-up sometimes is because the district is getting information it didn’t have before.
Blomquist added, “How do you justify changing your models to make up for these insufficiencies and passing them along to the citizens who’ve been paying taxes on what they thought the value of their house — then you zap them with a big increase. That doesn’t seem fair.”
“It isn’t fair,” White said. “I wish I didn’t have to raise value but I have to get it to that 100 percent of market value.”
Mayor Spencer Smith said, “So what you’re saying is that the state establishes the policy and you execute the policy from the state comptroller?”
White answered, “The tax code establishes what I have to follow. The comptroller determines if I’m following the guidelines.”
Smith responded by saying, “To preclude some of the confusion like you showed in one of your slides, they look to rename your office to the State Comptroller’s Office but the thing is you don’t need standards and they have the hammer on you.
“Some of the things I see are the ultimate, where you have these increases and the perception is that they aren’t gradual because of the models and all those other things going on.”
The appraisal process is both complex and ever changing from year to year, White said.
According to White, the number of appraisal appeals hit 18,000 this year, indicating that a number of residents in Bell County don’t understand the reasons behind enormous increases such as those of four years ago when appraisals went up by percentages well into the thousands in some cases.
White said, “Land valuations and changes could be a major factor because appraisals were behind on market values, sales data and property value studies showed that many rural land values were behind market values, and land can be valued with either of these three methods or a combination: 1. direct sales comparison-using sales of vacant parcels, allocation-using ratio of land to building and abstraction-using sales of improved parcels and removing the value of buildings.”
Smith asked, “What happens if the residents can’t pay their property taxes? Is the state going to take their land away from them?”
White said, “That’s something the city would do,” which Smith disagreed with and turned it over to City Manager David Mitchell for a response.
Mitchell said, “Bell County approaches us about property that has gone several years without responding to the efforts to collect taxes. If the property stays there long enough, it will garner enough attention to where Harker Heights and Bell County would join forces to deal with it.”
Councilman John Reider told White that in his defense, he believed that as chief appraiser he’s walked into a situation where his job was to bring assessments into a range between 98 to 105 percent of market value, and that’s been difficult in Bell County.
Reider said, “My concern with those who no longer lead the district and you is that you’re claiming to follow the state’s requirements, then the state is saying the appraisers are doing this and some of this is still under-assessed. but what is the solution to resolving these issues?”
“We have been able to bring several properties to a more equitable level and hopefully that will help in the future,” White said.