HARKER HEIGHTS — A group of local landowners shared horror stories of astronomical increases in their property tax bills during an emotional Heights City Council meeting Tuesday. Approximately 15 owners, including Heights Councilman John Reider, raged during a public hearing against across-the-board property appraisal jumps from 2016 that — in one notable case — reached as high as 5,050 percent. “I am sure we can all agree — this is manipulation at its finest and will ultimately be revealed as counterproductive to the spirit of the intended law,” Reider said in a written statement.
After the Bell County Appraisal District, the body in charge of assigning land values each year, began to send out property value notices in April, landowners in growing numbers have reported appraisals that threaten to wipe out retirement savings, raise rents for tenants and evaporate small businesses in major commercial corridors on U.S. Highway 190/Interstate 14, East Knight’s Way and Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen.
Reider, the owner of a commercial real estate brokerage in Heights, said the appraisals would create chaos in the local economy if the figures were not lowered by the appraisal district or with outside interference from the state.
“We currently have no protection against (the appraisal district’s) aggressive valuation practices,” Reider said.
Raymond Hamden, a Heights real estate broker, said his vacant lot in the 1700 block of East Knight’s Way was assigned a proposed value of $851,731 in 2017 — a 5,050-percent increase from the property’s $16,536 value in 2016.
That increase equates to more than $20,000 in new property tax Hamden could be forced to pay to local taxing jurisdictions.
“It seems like the small-business owner is getting punched again — this time at the local level rather than at the federal level,” Hamden said.
The Heights council used the hearing Tuesday as a sounding board session for property owners but does not have the power to change the appraisal district’s policies. The council invited representatives from the appraisal district and the offices of area representatives to hear comment from the owners.
The deadline for landowners to protest their appraisals with the district is June 1.
Visit www.bellcad.org for more information.
Other shocking appraisals include:
Charles McGorry — An unimproved vacant lot at the intersection of Indian Trail Road and East Knight’s Way in Heights increased from $31,442 in 2016 to $942,834 in 2017, or a 2,898-percent increase.
Wanda Lee Aycock — A segment of land forming the Aycock Construction complex at the intersection of Aycock Road and East Knight’s Way in Harker Heights increased from $3,825 in 2016 to $109,637 in 2017, or a 2,766-percent increase.
Jim Wright — An unimproved vehicle impound lot in the 4000 block of Bacon Ranch Road in Killeen increased from $41,877 in 2016 to $232,836 in 2017, or a 456-percent increase.
Tuesday was not the first time landowners have expressed their outrage in a public forum.
Hamden and other landowners stormed a Heights public forum May 13 with Texas District 55 Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, with many of the same figures, saying the districts were out of control and appealing for state intervention.
Shine, the sponsor of a Senate bill to improve transparency in property tax rates, said recent bills to cap appraisal increases at 10 percent for commercial and rental property have garnered little support from the Legislature.
Homestead residences are the only property class in Texas with a 10 percent appraisal cap.
Dianna McConnell, a local advocate for landowners protesting the new appraisals, called Tuesday for landowners to join an appeal to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to call for a special session for immediate injunctive relief for landowners that could be out of business before the next Legislature meets in 2019.
Gary Young, a property owner in Heights, said the state needed to step in to address the lack of oversight at the county level.
“What do you do when an entity is out of control, and no one can do anything about it?” he said.