Some Galveston County elected officials are calling for property values to be reassessed after Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches of rain in parts of the county and caused damaged of an estimated 19,000 or more homes.
Commissioner Joe Giusti and Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson aired the proposal during a commissioners court budget workshop Tuesday and said other cities in the county, namely Galveston, had been looking at how to reassess values.
Johnson, who has been touting the plan on social media for days, suggested the county’s appraisal district use statistical modeling and collect information during drive-by assessments this month and from aerial imaging to determine which areas could have property values lowered. Johnson lives on Clear Creek in Friendswood and had flooding in her garage, but not her home, she said.
Taxes on those new values would then be prorated for the year with the last several months changed to take into account the new value, Johnson said.
The state allows a taxing entity, such as a city or school district, to authorize a reappraisal of all property damaged after a place has been declared a disaster area, but it isn’t commonly done, chief appraiser Tommy Watson said.
“Taxing entities have to take official action and request it — and they will have to pay for it,” Watson said.
Victoria County called for the appraisal district to reappraise properties there in 2015 after flooding ravaged Goliad, Johnson said. Cities have a good handle of what parts of their communities were flooded and appraisers could use data collected from aerial mapping and other technologies to make blanket reductions, she said.
For example, a neighborhood or street with 3 feet of flooding in homes could have property values reduced by 25 percent or another determined amount, she said.
The district didn’t have money budgeted to cover the costs of new appraisals, Watson said. The district would have to expend more staff hours and possibly hire contractors, he said.
County Judge Mark Henry spoke with the appraisal district Tuesday about the plan, but was on the fence about how it might work in unincorporated Galveston County. He wasn’t against it in theory, but the expense might make the idea infeasible, he said.
The plan carries an expense to local governments and creates a hit to the tax base for needed services as recovery begins, Henry said. The cost to reappraise values would be about $31 a parcel, the district told Henry.
In unincorporated areas, where the county has jurisdiction, the county estimates between 380 and 500 homes were damaged during Harvey.
A similar plan after Hurricane Ike in 2008 didn’t end up getting approval from the county or cities because of costs, Henry said. When tax relief estimates were made, the average was about $200 for the year for homeowners in League City, Henry said.
“It’s a pretty significant expense to the county that would only create modest relief,” Henry said.
Giusti, who brought the issue to the table Tuesday, said some central appraisal districts in the state had done the reappraisals without additional cost after flooding in their communities. But he still wanted answers to questions about how it would play out before bringing it up for a vote, he said.
“Hopefully, the cities will all do this and if the cities do it we can tag along with them,” Giusti said. “Does the CAD have the manpower to do that? I don’t know.”
Galveston finance officials were exploring property value reductions for downtown businesses that flooded during Harvey, Johnson said. The city finance director could not be reached by press time.
Other officials around the county, including Mayor Julie Masters, of hard-hit Dickinson, said they hadn’t yet heard about proposals to reassess property valuations.