The county’s Central Appraisal District board has three new faces and two returning members beginning two-year terms this month to oversee an entity that is often the target of frustration about rising property values and property taxes.
Representatives of local taxing entities — including school districts, cities and colleges — elected Bruce Clawson, Mary Patricia “Trish” Hanks and Donald Gartman as new members to the Central Appraisal District’s five-member review board.
Vic Pierson was re-elected after serving several terms on the board and Roney McCrary is returning to the board after being off it for two years.
Most, if not all, of what a county’s Central Appraisal District does is dictated by state law and the state comptroller’s office, said Jack Cross, a former member of the Galveston County Appraisal Review Board, a separate entity from the district’s board of managers.
The comptroller’s office governs appraisal districts across Texas and regularly reviews property valuations compared to sale prices to ensure they are accurate, Cross said. If those valuations are off by more than about 5 percent, the district faces penalties and is forced to reassess the values, he said.
But the district has at times drawn fire because of rising property valuations, which mean owners pay more in taxes, and is sometimes used as a “whipping boy” by elected officials, Cross said.
Property valuations may increase, but the district doesn’t set property tax rates. Taxing entities, which set tax rates, could reduce the burden by lowering those rates, he said. Instead, many elected officials blame rising property taxes on rising property values, Cross said.
Central Appraisal District board members are not responsible for appraising property values, but for setting the appraisal district’s budget for staff and hiring the county’s chief appraiser.
The board also is not responsible for resolving property value disputes. Those are heard by the Appraisal Review Board, an entity independent of the Central Appraisal District.
Board members serve two-year terms and are elected by members of school and college boards and city councils and commissions across the county, according to the Central Appraisal District.
The bigger the taxing entity, the more votes it gets. The county and Clear Creek Independent School District have the most votes, for instance, according to the district. The term began Jan. 1.
Pierson, president and CEO of Moody National Bank, sought re-election to bring his institutional memory to the board after serving several terms, he said. As the county’s population has grown, the board has needed to make sure its staffing is sufficient and keep up with technology to help get the fairest values, he said.
“The main thing is to make sure we’re adequately staffed with competitive salaries, but also to try to operate as conservatively and efficiently as possible,” Pierson said.
Clawson, a Texas City commissioner, was also elected to the board, after deciding to run in an effort to make sure the district has adequate resources to assess values in a way that is fair, he said. Particularly after Hurricane Harvey, the Central Appraisal District will likely need experts to address how to find a fair value on homes with flood damage, he said.
“I’m not aware that anybody has been treated unfairly,” Clawson said. “But the value is set at the CAD level and its terribly important that it’s fair.”
Hanks, a retired Friendswood Independent School District superintendent, said she ran at the urging of local superintendents after retiring from her position. Taxpayers fund the Central Appraisal District through local property taxes, so she wanted to ensure the money was well spent, she said.
“The cities and school districts pay a lot of money to CAD so we want to make sure that our taxpayer money is spent efficiently,” Hanks said. “I want to make sure the county appraisal district is doing its job in the best way possible.”
Hanks did not see any issues with how the Central Appraisal District is operating now, she said. The Central Appraisal District sometimes draws criticism for rising property values, but those concerns should be more accurately directed at state legislators, Hanks said.
“It’s not really a function of the board,” Hanks said. “That’s really state legislators who set the law and what the agency has to do with appraisals.”
Gartman, who also serves on the College of the Mainland board, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. McCrary, a former College of the Mainland trustee and American National Insurance Co. employee, did not return a two phone calls at his home Wednesday.
Former board members David Moss, Kevin Corcoran and Clay Morrison retired or stepped down from their positions, according to the district.
Scott Brast, who previously served on the board, was not re-elected, at least in part after a majority of the League City council declined to cast votes for the League City resident. During the vote, Councilman Dan Becker said he objected to having three of five members on the board related to the Moody businesses. Brast also is an employee of American National Insurance Company, which, like Moody National Bank, was founded by Galveston’s influential Moody family.
The next election will be held in December 2019.