The next time you get your property appraised, it could be someone from the state giving you your bill.
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, filed a bill Friday to abolish the Tarrant Appraisal District, which faces increased scrutiny over a series of missteps and controversies within the past several years.
“I think there’s a problem at the top, and this is one way to fix the problem at the top,” Geren said shortly after arriving in Austin for the start of the legislative week.
Geren’s bill stipulates that any county with a population of more than 2.1 million, which hosts an airport with specific designations, will have its appraisal district abolished. Tarrant meets both stipulations. Geren filed the bill on the last day lawmakers can file for the current legislative session.
The bill would instead designate the state comptroller’s office to perform the duties of the appraisal district, including board of directors, chief appraiser and appraisal office. Currently, the state comptroller is responsible for auditing appraisal districts every two years.
“The comptroller would take over the operation,” Geren said. “Permanently,” he added.
Rich DeOtte, Tarrant Appraisal District’s board secretary and presiding officer, said his primary concern is ensuring that TAD’s staff know their jobs will remain safe if Geren’s bill passes.
“The people that do the work, this isn’t gonna threaten their jobs,” DeOtte said. “I’m confident in that based on discussions that I’ve had with people, and so they can go about doing their jobs like they’re supposed to do every day and do a good job.”
TAD did not have any comment at this time.
Controversies surrounding the appraisal district have included locking residents out of a board meeting; an appraisal employee sending complaints against a local tax consultant to the state without board approval; and several conflict of interest reports.
“If you read the news you know what I’m concerned about,” Geren told the Fort Worth Report, citing the recent resignation and threatened recall of Board Chair Kathryn Wilemon along with a series of other issues.
“There’s concerns about violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” he continued. “There have been concerns about how they treat their constituents, making them stand outside in 100 degree heat. Their lack of cooperation with the press. ”
And he added: “The Tarrant Appraisal District should never be in the newspaper, and they’re in the newspaper very regularly.”
These issues and others have concerned DeOtte for some time.
“I think what this says, more than anything else, is that the elected representation around the county apparently is very concerned about these things as well,” DeOtte said.
Most recently, the appraisal district’s board of directors came under fire for what some local leaders saw as an attempt to undercut taxpayers’ voting rights.
After the City of Keller initiated a recall of board chair Wilemon, she resigned the next day, teeing up a confusing legal debacle over whether the local taxing entities — or the appraisal board itself — should choose her replacement. Shortly thereafter, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court also voted to recall Wilemon.
The appraisal board is moving forward with picking a replacement itself, a move that resulted in Keller Mayor Armin Mizani threatening legal action against the appraisal district. The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Phil Sorrells sent a letter to the appraisal district asking for clarity on whether it would let taxing entities choose Wilemon’s replacement or if Tarrant County “must explore alternate legal remedies.”
“There appears to be no shortage of people unhappy with the goings on at TAD. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it has registered,” Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare said. “With the recalls in Tarrant County and Keller, and the bill filed by Rep. Geren, it ought to now.”
DeOtte is calling an emergency appraisal board meeting Friday to discuss the letters from Mizani and Sorrells, in addition to Geren’s bill, he said.
“I will say I’m opposed to the idea that anybody other than the taxing units decide who their board members are,” he said.
Trey Cobb, president and senior property tax consultant with Kirkwood and Darby in Fort Worth, said he doesn’t expect Geren’s bill to go far.
“The problem is management and that can be helped greatly by popular election of the board of directors,” he said.
The bill that created Texas’ current tax appraisal districts, the Peveto Bill of 1979 and subsequent amendments, improved the property tax system in Texas by taking the appraisal of property out of the direct control of the taxing units who ultimately received the taxes based on those values, but did not go far enough, Cobb said.
“As long as those same taxing units appoint the board, the tax code has not broken that relationship, only weakened it by a matter of mere degrees,” he said.
Increasing property taxes have been the focus of bipartisan criticism across Texas. In Tarrant, multiple local entities are responsible for setting residents’ tax rate — but it all comes back to an initial property value estimate from the local appraisal district. Texas has some of the highest property tax bills in the U.S., largely because of a state ban on levying income taxes.
If passed by a simple majority, Geren’s bill would take effect Sept. 1, 2023. If it receives a two-thirds vote, it would take effect immediately.
Business editor Robert Francis contributed to this report.
Editors note: This story will be updated with more information as it becomes available.
Editors note: This story was updated to include Tarrant Appraisal District’s comments, and comments from Trey Cobb.