By Chris Edwards
WOODVILLE – “What we do is not a science. It’s a judgment, an opinion,” Tyler County’s Chief Appraiser David Luther told a crowd assembled in the District Courtroom at the Tyler County Courthouse on Monday evening.
Luther spoke before a courtroom full of county residents and the members of the Tyler County Commissioners Court on the posted topic of “How to Lower Your Taxes.” Luther said that although he was called to address the topic, it was one to which he does not “have an answer to that right off the bat.”
Luther’s presentation addressed the aspects of how appraisals are assessed on properties; the statutory role of property taxes; the aspect of depreciation and how the protest process works and the politics that play into the property tax system.
Luther pointed out in the beginning of his presentation that the countywide certified taxable values were $1.5 billion in 2022, while the preliminary values this year exceed $1.8 billion. Much of that increase, he noted, was due to mineral rights as well as oil and gas.
At the legislative level, a debate carries on as to how property tax relief should be delivered, with Gov. Greg Abbott having called special sessions to address the topic, among others, after the 88th legislature adjourned sine die.
One of the measures favored by the House, but rejected by the Senate, included an increase of the homestead exemption to $100K, as well as a 5% appraisal cap on all real property.
In the regular session, the legislature had set aside $17.6 billion for property tax relief, but ideological differences between the two chambers resulted in adjournment sans deal.
Abbott, in comments following the first special session, said that he supports the approach passed by the House, which would result in $12.3 billion spent on compression, where the state would buy down school districts’ property tax rates and foot the bill.
Luther addressed the machinations of property tax relief as a political football during legislative cycles; that although often talked about and campaigned on, has not been handled by the state’s governing body.
“Three men (Abbott, Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick) are holding every property owner at the cliff’s edge,” Luther said. “There needs to be an ‘Abraham, Abraham’ moment so they don’t sacrifice the future of hurting citizens.”
Part of the presentation broke down the basics of the state’s property tax system. Property taxes provide the bulk of funding for local governments to pay for services, and by statute, the process is meted out to local officials in determining property values, ensuring that the values are equal and uniform in setting and collecting the taxes. Luther said that one paradox in the state’s property tax system is what he refers to as “the great divide,” which is that the majority of taxpayers agree that the taxes are too high, but that also, the majority do not want a state income tax. Also, he noted, there is, by statute, no state property tax rate set by the state, nor are property taxes collected by the state.
Luther outlined what he and the appraisers working for the County Appraisal District do, including the determination of appraised values for all properties in the county and setting values at both market and appraised values.
Appraisers also measure houses, estimate values and use deed records to determine the taxable values of properties.
Luther also outlined several types of exemptions, including the homestead exemption; exemptions for religious organizations as well as those for over age 65.
One key factor of property tax protests Luther went over deals with depreciation, in which loss of value due to any cause is factored.
“If we have developed what we believe are accurate costs to rebuild or replace a home and we apply them to your property, then in theory and in practice…then we must apply sufficient depreciation,” Luther said, before demonstrating examples, such as structural disrepair and property values affected by outside forces.
When the floor was turned over for public comment, several citizens had signed up to speak on the topic. The first up was Warren resident Neil Alderman said that citizens should not have to worry about their properties being taken away due to excessive taxation.
“Change is never going to start at the steps of the White House…change is going to start at the county courthouse,” he said.
Alderman further addressed a need for clearer understanding as to where the appraisal increases are coming from and recommended that the appraisal district be done away with. “Someone’s got to be accountable. No one ever is,” he said.
Another Tyler County resident, Mike Godwin, asked for clarification on the tax statements about market value and the large difference between it and the appraised value. “What’s the big deal about even having the market value on there?” he asked. “We’re not in Houston, nor Dallas,” he said.
Melissa Riley, a Woodville resident, echoed some of Alderman’s sentiments about holding to account legislators on the issue, and encouraged county officials to “step up and go beat on doors” in Austin.
Luther urged residents to take advantage of the right to protest their appraisals. “It is important to exercise the right to protest,” he said. The deadline for protesting the 2023 appraisals is Thursday, June 15.