GALVESTON — Mayoral candidate Jim Yarbrough requested that a homestead exemption be removed from his ranch home outside La Grange last September, a revelation that could affect his candidacy going forward.
On Sept. 8, 2013, Yarbrough submitted a handwritten note to Richard Moring, the chief appraiser of the Fayette County Appraisal District. The note asked Moring to remove the homestead exemption on Yarbrough’s ranch house “effective January 1, 2013.” The home is in an unincorporated part of Fayette County.
The request came eight months and two days before this year’s local election day on May 10.
The city’s charter requires that at-large council candidates have a “principal physical residence” in the city for at least one year before preceding an election. The same section of the charter reads that in order for an address to qualify as a “principal physical residence” that candidate must not claim a homestead exemption on any property other the one they list as their principal one.
The letter was obtained by The Daily News through a public records request with the Fayette County Central Appraisal District after one of Yarbrough’s opponents, Don Mafrige, raised questions about residency last week.
By removing the homestead exemption, Yarbrough was required by Fayette County to pay all applicable taxes on the property as if the exemption had never existed, Moring said in an interview Monday.
Moring described the situation of removing a homestead exemption midyear as uncommon, but that his office did have a procedure to deal with requests like Yarbrough’s.
“A lot of times, we don’t know what people’s situation is,” said Moring. “Obviously, you can’t have two homesteads in the same year on different properties.”
For his part, Yarbrough, who was Galveston County judge for 16 years, admitted to requesting the exemption change.
He maintained Monday that by removing the exemption and paying his taxes from the effective date, he still should be a qualified candidate.
“If that’s what I said, that’s what I said,” Yarbrough said when asked about the date he requested the change. “I don’t really remember when it was.”
Asked specifically about when the request for the homestead exemption’s removal was sent, Yarbrough repeatedly referred back to the effective date and the money he paid by making his request.
“Exemptions are always effective January 1, and so I know that if I had that exemption removed it would be as of January 1,” Yarbrough said. “It doesn’t matter when I asked for it — it was effective on that date.”
Mafrige has said he is considering challenging Yarbrough’s candidacy based on his homestead exemption history.
Mafrige said on Saturday that he was investigating allegations about Yarbrough’s residency qualifications. On the same day, Yarbrough acknowledged he had placed a homestead exemption on a home in Fayette County in 2012 but said that he had removed it in 2013 because he knew it could affect his candidacy for mayor.
Yarbrough said that he has lived on the island, even during the time when the homestead exemption was placed on his house in Fayette County. After selling a town house in December 2011, Yarbrough said he and his wife lived in a leased home until September 2013, when they bought a house on Broadway. Yarbrough applied for a homestead exemption on that home, which he lists on his ballot application as his primary residence, in November 2013.
It’s unclear if Yarbrough could be removed from May’s ballot in some way by Mafrige or another opponent.
In an email to The Daily News, City Secretary Janelle Williams said such decisions could not be made by her office.
“The city does not have the authority to declare a candidate ineligible when a question is raised regarding residency,” Williams said.
State law allows district courts the power to rule over the right of a candidate to occupy an office. Such of challenge would need to be initiated by the attorney general’s office or one of the elected candidate’s challengers.
Such a legal challenge could lead to a greater question of whether Galveston’s candidates requirements, which were approved by voters in 2012, fall in line with state law. According to the secretary of state’s website “no public record conclusively proves residence. Only a court of law may make a ruling on a person’s residence.”
Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.