Travis County officials have lined up a consulting firm to study whether local commercial properties are undervalued compared with residential properties, an analysis that could provide the basis for challenging appraisals next year or lobbying the Legislature to reform the state’s tax system... But it’s unclear whether the Commissioners Court will green-light the study .
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Travis commissioners mull tax fairness study
County officials unsure whether to authorize analysis of appraisals.
ByAndra Lim firstname.lastname@example.org
Travis County officials have lined up a consulting firm to study whether local commercial properties are undervalued compared with residential properties, an analysis that could provide the basis for challenging appraisals next year or lobbying the Legislature to reform the state’s tax system.
But it’s unclear whether the Commissioners Court will green-light the study Tuesday.
Commissioner Margaret Gómez said she’s against “immediately” taking legal action, a move that could result from such a study. She noted that the Legislature cut county governments out of the appraisal business and created appraisal districts for a reason.
“They did that to take the politics out of it so people would trust that no politics were entering into that process,” Gómez said in an interview. “My concern with us filing a tax challenge is that I don’t want to put politics back into the process.”
Asked if an appraisal study commissioned by the county could have any positive result, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said, “Well, let’s put it this way. I don’t think that anything that we would do would necessarily have that much effect on the Legislature.”
Daugherty said he thinks the system is fair
— residential and commercial property owners may protest valuations they believe are too high
— but is more beneficial for commercial owners, who he said have additional “levers and mechanisms” in the protest process.
In June, commissioners decided not to challenge the accuracy of the commercial tax roll, dis appointing activists who said homeowners bear a heavier burden as the result of an unfair tax system. Citing a lack of reliable information, the Commissioners Court instead voted to solicit the services of an expert to study appraisals.
In an interview, County Judge Sam Biscoe alluded to the disappointment some might voice if the commissioners decided not to hire an expert. “I think residents really want us to do it,” he said.
Biscoe, Daugherty and Gómez said in separate interviews they hadn’t decided which way to vote. Commissioner Bruce Todd, who proposed hiring the expert, declined to comment. Commissioner Ron Davis was on vacation.
The county attorney’s office has been negotiating with a consulting firm that would compare residential and commercial sales to appraisals for a large number of properties, said Biscoe, who declined to name the firm.
The firm would hire other experts to help with the work, Biscoe said. The study would take 15 to 16 weeks, meaning if it started soon, it would be ready in March, when the legislative session is in full swing, he said. (Commissioners have discussed the item behind closed doors for six weeks without making any decision, but Biscoe said he intends to put it to a vote Tuesday.)
During budget sessions, commissioners voted 3-2 to approve $100,000 to hire an appraisal expert, with Davis and Gómez abstaining.
The actual cost could be a few times that amount, Biscoe said. It depends on whether other jurisdictions partner with Travis County, Biscoe said, and none have committed to doing so yet.
The Austin school district doesn’t have the money to help pay for such a study, district spokeswoman Tiffany Young said.
The city of Austin recently started seeking professionals to analyze commercial property appraisals within city limits, and in December, council members will decide whether to hire their own expert or join with the county, city officials said in response to a list of written questions.
City Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the city resolution directing officials to work on compiling evidence for a challenge, said it “likely will make better sense to partner with the county and share that ex pense.”
The Commissioners Court voted in June to convene a working group that would study fixes to the appraisal system. The initial plan county officials presented to commissioners said a report with recommendations would be ready in November.
Deece Eckstein, the county’s intergovernmental relations coordinator, said a working group will soon be put together and will include industry experts such as representatives from the appraisal district, appraisers and property tax consultants. The county is behind on its original time line because officials were considering the best way to convene stakeholders, Eckstein said.
Contact Andra Lim at 512-445-3972. Twitter: @AndraCLim
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