GALVESTON

Texans must be allowed to challenge their property appraisers face to face even if the appraisers are afraid of being near other people during a pandemic, state Attorney General Ken Paxton said.

Facing questions from a state representative about whether the Galveston Central Appraisal District could hold all of its protest hearings via video conference, Paxton said state law requires in-person meetings.

Holding only virtual meetings could lead to lawsuits, Paxton said in an opinion written May 8.

Texas administrative codes “do not allow appraisal review boards to require protest hearings be conducted by videoconference in lieu of in-person hearings when requested by a property owner,” Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s opinion was issued in response to a request by state Rep. Mayes Middleton, a Republican from Wallisville whose district includes Galveston Island.

Middleton sought an opinion in April, after officials at the Galveston Central Appraisal District announced they were considering requiring people who want to challenge their property values before the Appraisal Review Board to do it by video-conferencing.

The coronavirus pandemic and its associated lockdowns were in full swing when county property owners began receiving their 2020 property valuations, which are used to determine property taxes.

Property values across the county generally increased, Galveston County Chief Appraiser Tommy Watson said. However, the values were based on home sales figures from 2019 and reflect the value of properties on Jan. 1, 2020 — months before people were affected by the economic slump of the coronavirus.

There could be an increase in property value protests as people seek to lower their property tax bills, officials have said.

Remote conferences were being considered out of concern for the safety of the board members and the public amid the coronavirus pandemic, Watson said. Normally, appraisal review board hearings are held in a room at the Central Appraisal District’s office in Texas City.

Middleton, however, argued that not allowing in-person hearings would violate the Texas Constitution and would put some Texans at a disadvantage when it comes to challenging their property values.

Middleton called Paxton’s opinion a victory for taxpayers.

“CADs cannot force remote or online hearings,” Middleton said. “After all, many Texans do not have high-speed internet or smartphones.”

Middleton’s April letter asked several other questions about the legality of the appraisal review board changing its processes and announcing the change on its website and whether property values might be rolled back to 2019 values because of possible violations made by the appraisal district.

If the district changes its hearing procedures, it must notify property owners of the changes with a letter and not just use its website, Paxton wrote. However, changes to property values can only be nullified in limited cases, Paxton wrote.

Watson on Friday did not respond to a request for comment about the district’s plans for appraisal reviews. Review hearings typically occur in May and June. State law requires property value protests to be completed by July 20.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(20) comments

Ray Taft

Governor Abbott declared a State of Disaster in Texas due to COVID-19. Then, President Trump, approved our governor’s declaration, and declared that a major disaster existed in Texas since January 2020. Nobody’s Property Tax, Market Value, or Appraised Value should be increased during a declared disaster.

The Galveston County Appraisal District wants to bend the law to avoid face to face in-person hearings. They want to change hearing procedures by an unlawful edict on their website.

But they can’t stop increasing our property taxes by grossly raising property values and trying to unlawfully hide from the protests during a disaster that negatively affects so many people. That shows us how out of touch and power-mad the people at the Appraisal District are.

And it also shows us that if Attorney General Ken Paxton, in response to state Rep. Mayes Middleton’s request, can take action, then so can Governor Abbott and the rest of the Texas Legislator, by freezing our property values and taxes NOW!

PD Hyatt

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Bailey Jones

Does this mean that protest can ONLY be face to face, or that tax payers have the option of either face to face or virtual?

Carol Dean

You will have the Option; at least in front of the Appraisal Review Board. Check with the GCAD to find out how this applies to "informal" protests before going to a "formal" protest. In the past MANY protests have been settled during informal protests.

Bailey Jones

[thumbup]

Richard Moore

Of course taxing authorities have the authority to set their Tax Rates so that there is no increase of taxes levied.

Ron Shelby

Not correct. Every individual property must have the same tax rate applied, therefore even if the city or county drops it’s rate so that it receives the same amount in taxes as the years previous, an individual who’s property increased in value by ten percent will pay more, relatively, as compared to an individual who’s property did not increase in value at all.

Ted Gillis

Ken Paxton and Miles Middleton are just being sensationalists.

I’m not going in person, and I hope the CAD personnel are allowed to sit behind an acrylic barrier if the choose to do so.

Come on Miles, start shaking hands and kissing babies while you are at it, election season is on the way.

Wallisville, Really? How did we (I’m including myself with you islanders for the moment) allow ourselves to be represented by some hayseed from Hicksville?

Carol Dean

Ted, it's a darn shame you are not more informed in regards to the good things that Paxton and Middleton have already done for you. I'm going to guess that you are a liberal of "the highest degree"! It's either that or you have your own ax and agenda to grind.

Paul Sivon

Please list some good things they have done for “me” or you, if you can.

Ted Gillis

Yes, I have the highest degree!

Paula Flinn

I already submitted my protest online. I hope my property insurance will go down significantly. I have a small, older house and have made no improvements this past year, or the year before. My “value” went up, anyway.

Terri Abraham

Paula, mine has gone up 19 of the 21 years I've owned my house. Never made any real improvements, either, just upkeep. Only lower tax was after Ike!

Paula Flinn

Well, I did get a new roof a few years ago. The house had the original roof (84 yrs.old). Ike took a few shingles off, but it did not leak. Yes, only lower tax was after Ike. But it’s still a 1 story bungalow with window unit A/C’s and one floor furnace for heat. 2Br. 1 Bath.

Terri Abraham

I have replaced my roof, but I consider that upkeep, it really isn't an improvement IMO, like granite countertops, or adding a pool.

horace norris

I guess the old saying is right....the only thing for sure is death and taxes

James Lippert

State Representative Mayes Middleton has been railing against “high taxes” and the “elimination of waste, fraud and corruption in government”. Mayes has praised the virtues of “Sunshine Week” claiming “the fight for transparency is a moral battle that must continue. As taxpayers we have a right to know how government operates and how our tax money is spent, and, at the end of the day, the end result of more sunshine is less waste, fraud and abuse.” All the while Middleton turns a blind eye to allegations of possible nefarious activities involving Middleton supporters in San Leon involving hundreds of thousands of public funds. Middleton needs to walk the walk if he is going to talk the talk.

Gene Widder

The only reason Middleton "rails against high taxes" is because he owns a ton of property and is trying to save himself a lot of money. He could care less about the common person and the entities that depend on the tax revenue for survival, like our schools. It's the only issue he ran on and the one he truly cares about.

Carol Dean

Terri Abraham, "Improvements" refers to structures, your house, sheds, structures that are are on your property. Generally speaking, I would say that a rise in Improvements would pertain the the Market Value of your house. Contact the GCGAD for the exact definition.

Terri Abraham

Thanks Carol. I thought they meant an actual improvement in what has been here since I bought it.

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