A standing room only crowd greeted Johnson County Central Appraisal District Director Jim Hudspeth at Texas Patriots’ Tuesday meeting in Burleson. Attorney Bruce Medley, of Perdue Brandon Field Collins & Mott, joined Hudspeth to discuss property taxes, a subject near but not so dear to hearts of many Texans of late.
Medley’s firm performs property and tax legal services for Johnson County.
“We appreciate the service of [Hudspeth and Medley] and them agreeing to visit with us tonight and make themselves vulnerable to people who are frustrated,” Texas Patriots Past President Baker Hughes said by way of introduction.
Although discourse remained civil throughout the meeting, attendees made clear their frustration with spiraling property taxes and impatience with lack of solutions.
The appraisal districts determine property values but have no involvement in setting tax rates, Hudspeth said.
Hudspeth, as he did when he addressed the Johnson County Commissioners Court several weeks ago, said that although the CAD has to follow certain guidelines his office determines Johnson County property values independently.
“I’ve never had the comptroller, the state, a school district, city or anyone else tell or pressure us to raise, lower or do anything with property values,” Hudspeth said.
Hudspeth added that the Appraisal Review Board, the body property owners go before if they want to protest and dispute their property valuation, is separate from the CAD. Board members are appointed by a district judge and make their decisions independent from CAD influence or pressure, he said.
Medley added that property owners, even if they’ve elected to protest, can visit CAD should they think their valuation is too high.
“We’re human like anyone else so mistakes can be made,” Hudspeth said.
Nothing is promised but in certain cases property value adjustments can be made through the CAD office provided the property owner can document mistakes or errors, both said.
One attendee said she tried to do just that but was treated rudely by CAD employees.
“If that happens you need to ask to talk to a supervisor,” Medley said. “That should never happen and everyone is to be treated fairly, respectfully and uniformly.”
Hudspeth told that woman that he would be in contact with her to discuss her situation.
“Obviously, I can’t address specific property valuation questions tonight as I’m not in the office and don’t have access to the information,” Hudspeth said.
The same woman, who owns a small business in Burleson, said property taxes on her business have soared from $2,000 in 2013 to more than $8,000 this year.
“This is unsustainable,” the woman said. “Most small businesses are 10 to 20 people and rising costs like this are going to drive more and more of them out of business.”
Another attendee said taxes on his mineral values totaled $98 this year despite the fact that he only earned $43 from his rights during the same year.
Former Johnson County Republican Party President Henry Teich said he was amazed but not surprised by the large turnout.
“And I had a lot of people who called when they learned I was going to the meeting who weren’t able to make it and asked me to get back to them about how it went,” Teich said.
One stumbling block, Teich said, is that many don’t understand the CAD’s role or the overall system of how taxes work. All the same, Teich said, the problem is huge and needs to be addressed.
“The problem is land values are going up at a fast rate and many who already own their land or homes are on fixed incomes and can’t absorb these rising costs,” Teich said. “It’s a perplexing problem. I personally like a value added or sales tax approach but the decision makers in Austin don’t want that.
“That’s because if there’s a downturn in the economy and property tax is set on a fixed asset like land you can adjust. The problem with that is if the economy goes down many peoples’ incomes go down too. As property values go up those people, and those on fixed incomes, face exponential increases because their incomes aren’t pegged to inflation unlike that of a fixed asset.”
The bottom line, Teich said, is that people should not be forced out of their homes or property because of increased valuation.
“Everyone, especially Austin, wants Texas to grow, and that’s good in a lot of ways,” Teich said. “But as it grows land values increase. The thing is, a lot of people came here from somewhere else, more expensive states or [Texas] cities to buy their dream place in Johnson County. But now all the sudden people, again especially those on fixed incomes, are getting slammed with higher and higher property taxes. It’s a vicious cycle. They came from somewhere else or were already here and had been for years but now because of this we’re running out of somewhere else places.”
Craig Hundley, founder of the Johnson County Nonpartisan Political Group from the Horse Barn, agreed.
“I saw the high appraisals coming out and then I started seeing the people it’s harming,” Hundley said. “It’s what I call the dark side of taxes that people don’t see or talk about. That’s the people harmed by rising taxes that the papers never report and you never hear about on TV. The younger families and older residents on fixed budgets who simply can’t afford these increases. My daughter’s house payment went up $370 a month, my neighbor’s $190 a month just from the appraisals. I know the [CAD] says they don’t set taxes. But when you raise the appraisal on someone’s property you just gave them a massive tax increase.”
The mission of his group, Hundley said, is straightforward.
“We believe in taxes,” Hundley said. “We just believe in another way of collecting them. We believe that we as Texans should be allowed to own our property without any fear of us being taxed out of it. We should be allowed to truly own our homes but we never really do. We lease them from CAD.”
From consumption tax to other alternatives, Hundley said all options other than property tax should be considered.
Unfortunately, Hundley said, politicians and officials involved in all stages of the taxing process continue to simply kick the can down the road in place of taking concrete, meaningful action.
Hundley stressed that his group is separate and independent from the Texas Patriots but that he and other members attended Tuesday’s meeting at the invitation of the Texas Patriots. Hundley said that while he has his personal political leanings the nonpartisan part of his group’s name is vital.
“I don’t want the group to get one sided on this as to any particular party,” Hundley said. “Because Republican, Democrat, Independent whatever we’re all getting affected and hurt by it.”
The group started as a lark, Hundley said, and he never dreamed it would gain traction.
“I was sitting in my barn kind of mad about the situation and thought let me see if I can start a little Facebook group,” Hundley said. “It had to be nonpartisan like I said because this affects everyone. The horse barn part of the name was just kind of a joke. I had no idea it was going to blow up and take off. Now others are starting groups like this in Young, Erath and other counties.”
Hundley said it’s good to realize others share common goals but heartbreaking to hear the stories.
One friend who owns a small business in the county faces a property tax bill north of $9,000 and has no idea how he’s going to pay it. Another county resident sent Hundley a note saying she wanted to attend Tuesday’s meeting but has had to take up babysitting to make ends meet.
“The solution is to just get started,” Hundley said. “Get people together who have that common goal of wanting to see this property tax appraisal situation addressed. Doesn’t matter that they agree or disagree with each other otherwise politically because again, we’re all being harmed and affected by this.”