Tag Archives: Austin Tax Protest

City Report On Tax Appraisal Inequities Draws Outrage

By Bill Oakey – May 21, 2015

On Tuesday May 19th, a blue ribbon panel of City and County officials and other top leaders addressed an emotional crowd at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin. The topic was property tax appraisals. The speaker lineup included:

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner
Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin
Kathie Tovo, City of Austin Mayor Pro Tem
Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor
Marya Crigler, Travis Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser
Dick Lavine, Center for Public Policy Priorities
Leigh Murrin, Real Values for Texas

If you missed this event, please consider watching the full video here. It was highly informative, even if you thought you knew quite a bit about our tax appraisal system and how unjust it is. The combined factual and emotional impact is quite stunning. The City of Austin is considering filing a formal appeal of the undervalued commercial properties here in Austin. Estimates vary, but in many cases, large commercial buildings have been found to be undervalued by 40% or more.

On May 11th, the City released its detailed report on undervalued commercial properties. You can read the full report here. The panelists at the Tax Appraisal Forum discussed this blistering report, as well as details on the flawed tax appraisal system here in Texas. The cards are stacked so heavily against residential homeowners that the situation qualifies as a national disgrace. There are risks associated with the contemplated action by the City of filing a formal appeal to the Travis Central Appraisal District. The appeal could cause a delay in certifying this year’s tax rolls. Over 100 area taxing jurisdictions have been asked to weigh in on the appeal decision. But if the City indeed makes good on its formal challenge, the entire State of Texas would sit up and take notice. Fighting for justice can be a treacherous battle, just like any battle throughout history for a noble cause.

Affordability in Austin has reached an epic tipping point. You will see in the video of the panel discussion, that the citizens who spoke during the Q&A displayed emotions ranging from frustration to full-on anger. The appraisal inequities are only part of a bigger picture. Austin is growing at a breakneck speed, putting unprecedented pressure on home values and rents. Unlike businesses of all sizes, cities and counties do not carefully plan the pace of their growth. They do not add up the costs of all of their combined expansion plans that taxpayers go into debt and pay annual taxes to fund. It is more a matter of “build first and ask questions later.” That path, as everyone knows, can and often does result in spectacular boom and bust cycles. Perhaps we can convince our local officials to conduct a “Pre-Mortem” to determine how much we the citizens can realistically afford to pay for the cost of growth. And at what pace that growth can be deemed to be “affordable” for anyone but the most wealthy amongst us.

The State of Texas does not require sales price disclosure on either residential or commercial properties. We are one of only a few states that lacks this requirement. This sets up the flawed appraisal protest system, where the big boys can out-lawyer and out-spend not only the average homeowner, but the Appraisal Districts as well. Believe it or not, any cases that the Appraisal Districts lose in court require them to pay the commercial property owners’ legal fees. But if the case is decided in favor of us lowly taxpayers, we still have to pay the people’s side of the legal fees. The scales of justice are as titled as they can be. Attempts at reform during the current Legislative session went mostly nowhere, just as they have in every previous session going back for eons.

If you have a strong enough stomach, try to make yourself comfortable and watch this informative video on the inequity issues in our tax appraisal system. Thanks to the good folks at Real Values for Texas for their tireless efforts to push for reforms.


Austin To Consider Challenging Commercial Property Appraisals

By Bill Oakey – May 19, 2015

The City of Austin will decide within less than two weeks whether to formally challenge the tax appraisals of non-residential commercial properties. This would be a landmark event that comes as very welcome news. For far too long, commercial property owners have enjoyed the benefit of special loopholes under Texas law that allow them to gain property tax appraisals that often equate to only 60% of their true market value.

Texas is one of a tiny handful of states that do not require sales disclosure of properties after completed real estate transactions. This creates a tremendous burden on tax appraisal districts. It is much harder for them to determine actual market value of many commercial properties than it is for residential units. Residential units can be appraised in bulk, because of common characteristics in residential neighborhoods. But commercial properties vary widely in all sorts of respects, causing appraisals districts to face lots of challenges in trying to accurately estimate the market value of every building within their jurisdictions.

in Travis County, 90% of commercial property owners challenge their appraisals, and they often take their cases to court. The deep pockets of the big corporations dwarf the budget of the appraisal district, creating a very unlevel playing field. Many of the very same companies that receive tax subsidies to locate in Austin turn around and protest their tax appraisals, shifting the burden to residential taxpayers. The whole picture does not bode well for the beleaguered homeowners who have seen their tax appraisals shoot through the roof in the last few years.

A Great Big Thank You to Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Ann Kitchen, Ellen Troxclair Don Zimmerman!

These four City Council members have co-sponsored a resolution for Tuesday May 19th  to formally challenge this year’s tax appraisals for large commercial properties. A final decision on whether to file a challenge must be made before June 1st. The City has been studying and preparing for this potential action since last year. Of course there are risks that tax collections might be delayed. Bold actions always come with risks. But a fight for fairness is always a noble fight! One might ask, why doesn’t the Texas Legislature pass better laws to close the loopholes enjoyed by the rich and powerful? (silly question).

And one might say that commercial property owners might just raise their prices to their customers if they were suddenly required to pay their fair share of property taxes. But I have a much different outlook on the situation. Why should good, hard working average citizens be taxed out of their socks, year after year, while the big boys skate by without paying their fair share? I’m not the least bit concerned about how tough the fight is. The fact that we have new people on the City Council who are bold enough to stand up for the taxpayers is something to celebrate. I support the City Council resolution. Let the battle begin!

You Are Invited to a Property Tax Appraisal Forum

Dear Travis County Resident,

Commissioner Brigid Shea invites you to the Property Tax Appraisal Forum on Tuesday, May 19th from 6:00-8:00pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church (4700 Grover Ave; 78757).

The forum will provide information on the current status of tax appraisals and the efforts underway to ease the burden on homeowners. The speakers will address concerns and provide information that you may need for appeals and exemptions, as well as an update on current legislation.

Speakers Include:

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner

Kathie Tovo, City of Austin Mayor Pro Tem

Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor

Marya Crigler, Travis Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser

Dick Levine, Center for Public Policy Priorities

Leigh Murrin, Real Values for Texas


Brigid Shea
Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Address: 700 Lavaca, Ste.2.700, Austin, Texas
Phone: 512-854-1489
Email: Brigid.Shea@traviscountytx.gov
Twitter and Facebook: CommishShea