County commissioners on Monday turned down a plan to reappraise properties damaged by Hurricane Harvey, citing the expense of appraising the flooded homes.
The Galveston County Commissioners Court turned down on a 2-3 vote a proposal to ask the Galveston Central Appraisal District to reappraise all properties damaged by Harvey. Commissioners Darrell Apffel and Joe Giusti voted for the measure. Commissioners Ken Clark and Stephen Holmes and County Judge Mark Henry voted against it.
Apffel sponsored the measure at the urging of Tax Assessor Collector Cheryl Johnson, who has been advocating for reappraisals since the storm. Johnson argued that the issue was one of fairness in taxation. Homes and businesses should be reappraised to reflect the post-storm market values and the tax bill adjusted, she said.
“Disaster reappraisal matters to thousands of property owners across Galveston County,” Johnson said.
“Some say disaster reappraisal isn’t enough return for the cost, and yet not one person has disagreed that the concept, if the price is right, is good. The cost has been a distraction, a horrible distraction by the chief appraiser for what seems to be a job he’s determined not to do.”
But critics of the reappraisal worried about the cost of reappraising properties — estimated by the appraisal district at $22 per parcel — and the unforeseen consequences for local government budgets.
Homeowners will have an opportunity to protest their tax bills, and values will be reassessed by the district next year to reflect damage sustained by Harvey, Henry said.
The district has floated an across-the-board percentage decrease for people who can show damage, Henry said.
“My suggestion is we go through and let the January 1 date be our reassessment date,” Clark said. “The central appraisal district is going to go through that function anyway. It’s not going to cost us any additional dollars. Then we would know, when the rolls came out, how much the direct impact was to flooded property.”
Hurricane Harvey swamped regions of the county in late August, causing creeks to swell and flooding thousands of homes across Galveston County.
The appraisal district has a small staff and was still hearing protests, Chief Appraiser Tommy Watson said during a workshop on the issue. Adding the work might require hiring outside firms or contractors to do the reappraisals in that time frame, he said.
Commissioners also questioned how widespread reductions in values might affect budgets. The county didn’t have an estimate of how much it might cut into revenues for county services and projects that have been budgeted for, Holmes said.
“I find it hard to cast the vote so quickly on this with unanswered questions,” Holmes said. “I find it imprudent to try to move forward without knowing the answers to some of these questions.”
Apffel questioned the costs estimates from the district, saying that much of the work to reappraise the properties will have to be done for the 2018 tax year and appraisers are doing drive-by appraisals where they assess the value based on the exterior of the home in the Friendswood and Clear Creek school districts now, two of the hardest hit areas.
“If you’re out doing assessments, how can it not be reappraised at the same time?” Apffel said.
Appraisers can’t tell from driving by a home whether it had water damage inside, said Marcel Pierel, a chief deputy appraiser for the district.
League City council earlier this month voted down a similar measure.