By Vincent Morales, Commissioner, Fort Bend County Precinct 1
Did you have sticker shock last month when you opened up your new annual home appraisal from the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District (CAD)? I know I did, and chances are very good that you did too.
Everyone I talk to says the same thing, “Commissioner Morales, I have no idea where they got the idea that I can sell my property for this much money. And if they want to pay me that, they can have it.”
It’s become clear that the CAD are the only ones who know how their annual game is played, and that’s got to change. Their decisions on your property’s “market value” bring devastating consequences to many.
When business owners are forced to decide between paying the property tax bill or paying an employee’s salary, they are entitled to answers. When you see a 40% jump on your lot value – or on your small acreage – you are entitled to answers.
For the most part, the CAD operates as a closed system. But the system is so backwards, that in order to be successful when we protest – WE are the ones who have to protest and prove THEIR decision making. If you have never protested your property appraisal with the CAD, then I hope you’ll join me in making a protest this year. The May 15th deadline for getting your protest submitted is never well-marketed, and I hope you’ve made the deadline. Perhaps you’ve already hired one of the various firms around town who specialize in these types of protests, and they’ve been able to help you get some new answers about your specific property.
Frankly, we all deserve more answers. We deserve more transparency, more fairness and more public accountability. Over the last two weeks, nearly 11,000 Fort Bend residents signed my online petition demanding it, and our state leaders have noticed. We’ve received extensive media attention. We’ve been in communication with State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, State Senator Paul Bettencourt and State Representative Phil Stephenson – all of whom have pledged their help and support.
We’ve even been getting regular correspondence from the Chief Appraiser of the Fort Bend CAD. He says his hands are tied by the Property Tax Code, and so far, he has been backed up by legal interpretations of the current laws by the Attorney General.
But laws can be changed, and during economic disaster, they should be closely examined and re-evaluated. I have voted with the entire Fort Bend Commissioners Court for a resolution to petition the State of Texas and the CAD to provide relief to taxpayers – this year. We have also voted to freeze hiring for county departments and to reduce the remainder of the budget for the remaining five months of our fiscal year.
As a county commissioner, I believe that the buck literally stops here. I get to vote on part of your tax rate and I refuse to finance our county operations on the backs of people who are victims of the COVID-19 shutdown economy AND victims of the CAD’s improper valuations.
County taxes make up somewhere between 15 to 20% of your total tax bill, with the rest coming from cities, MUDs, school districts, etc. That’s not an insignificant amount of your tax money that I get to vote for this summer during our budget process. So, I pledge to you that I’m going to fight to keep as much of that money in your pocket by lowering the county’s tax rate to be revenue-neutral.
Additional cuts may be necessary, but the very least that I will vote for is a county budget or tax rate that does not increase tax revenues from citizens. Any additional dollars that come to the county budget for the next fiscal year should be from new construction and/or new growth only.
We face enough hardships from the current economic collapse and shutdown. We need the State of Texas to do their part now, to change this system, to provide relief to citizens, and to avoid yet another financial challenge for all of us.