Austin (KXAN) — Tax firms tell KXAN that Tuesday’s property appraisal hearings with the Travis Appraisal Review Board went awry. They explained –and recorded videos which show– the Chair of the Appraisal Review Board (ARB) announcing that she would be asking the board not to approve all the decisions made that day, and to instead have them re-heard at a later date.
“We have had some confusion, different decisions and inconsistent decisions across panels regarding evidence,” ARB Chair Betty Thompson is seen announcing to the group, noting that she is postponing all hearings.
“I will make a recommendation to the full ARB that due to the inconsistent decisions made across panels that you not approve the hearings that have already happened today,” Thompson continued. “So it will be a 100% re-noticing of the hearings.”
She advised all the tax agents in the room that all the hearings they had just participated in and the ones they didn’t finish on Tuesday would be scheduled “re-noticed” for Saturday, June 29. She added that the hearings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of this week would also be canceled.
That spurred laughter and groans from the room full of people who had been in hearings throughout the day. It also spurred frustration for firms and agents who had been fighting for cases — some of which they successfully argued to lower the appraised property value for owners — only to hear that all of that work may need to be done over.
The Travis Central Appraisal District sent out 438,000 appraisal notices to Travis County property owners in April. The Travis Appraisal Review Board is a separate entity, tasked with being an “independent, impartial group of citizens authorized to resolve disputes between taxpayers and the appraisal district.” The deadline to file a protest with the Appraisal Review Board was May 15.
In the videos of Tuesday’s hearings, Roy Armstrong, the attorney for the ARB spoke to the crowded room, “we had some legal issues that we did not anticipate that came up in multiple panels in multiple hearings.”
“In order to address those issues and to allow some time for additional consideration of these issues and to make sure that all of the ARB members have been privy to legal advice on these issues, we decided the best thing to do is to simply postpone the hearings and recommend that the ARB not approve the panel recommendations that have been made so far,” Armstrong said.
Whether that happens is up to the approval of the actual Appraisal Review Board, which next meets on Monday, June 12.
John Paul Krueger, founder and CEO of Five Stone Tax advisors, said this day cost his company tens of thousands of dollars. He hopes it does not wind up costing property owners the reductions their agents had already successfully argued for.
He said at Tuesday’s hearing, the panels had heard 93 of his firm’s protests and his firm was successful in reducing the appraised property values of 80% of those people. He estimates the total savings to their clients would be more than $82,438 in property taxes.
“Our clients would have gotten significant tax relief because of those outcomes,” Krueger said.
His company represents 20,000 Travis County Property owners. For the June 4 hearing, Five Stone was scheduled for 1,920 hearings and 48 panels. He believes that “under optimal conditions” only 1,000 hearings should be held in one day.
Krueger described disorder and frustration at the hearings Tuesday and in the lead up to it.
Having the hearings re-scheduled is just one piece of his frustration, Krueger says many TCAD representatives were not prepared to argue their cases properly and did not provide the evidence they’d be using to property owners within 14 days beforehand as is required by the state tax code.
He provided KXAN with emails from his team to TCAD, asking for that evidence for their properties on May 16 as they had not received it yet.
An email reply came on May 28 from TCAD explaining that it would take 2 hours of work to pull the evidence packets and that the evidence packets wouldn’t be available until June 10 — long after the June 4 hearing date.
Krueger’s staff was told by TCAD records management, “This is our busiest time of year as you well know.”
With worry about the upcoming June 4 meeting, Krueger contacted Chair Thompson, telling her that of the more than 1,500 hearings Five Stone was scheduled to argue for, TCAD had only provided evidence for 27.
He asked to reschedule those 1500 hearings and asked what would happen next In an email, Thompson told Five Stone to prepare for the June 4 meeting as planned.
“You will need to present why you are due the evidence. From there each panel will decide. There will absolutely be no postponements due to this matter,” she said in an email.
Krueger sees Thompson’s call to not approve Tuesday’s hearings as “giving the government a do-over because they didn’t like the outcome.”
“Obviously it’s a massive waste of time and money for all involved,” he said. To his knowledge, there were thousands of hearings scheduled for Tuesday, and many of those did not happen.
Bill Aleshire, an attorney for tax firm Texas Protax, said that many Protax agents Tuesday found themselves waiting for hours before they were called into hearings.
“I just think it’s horrible that taxpayers have to have money wasted in the tax collection process,” he said.
Aleshire is worried about getting all of these protests done on time with these cancellations and delays.
“Can we get through all the hearings is the bottom line,” he said.
Both Texas Protax and Five Stone have been involved with a suit against TCAD in the past year, but that was resolved with an agreed judgment in January, Aleshire said.
While they don’t have any legal action now, Krueger says, “if the board moves to undo those outcomes and take justice away from those clients, there would be legal action.”
KXAN has reached out to TCAD and to the Appraisal Review Board, only TCAD has responded.
Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler sent a brief reply which read:
“Within the next couple of days we will be providing a written statement addressing some of the issues that occurred yesterday.”
The attorneys for the Travis ARB, Julia and Roy Armstrong, said Wednesday that they decline to comment at this time.
Tuesday’s hearing is the start of a new process for appraisals in Travis County, just this year TCAD stopped having informal, face-to-face hearings. Local tax firms say, to their knowledge, this is the first year TCAD has done so. In previous years, these informal hearings allowed property owners an informal chance to meet with them before the hearings to work out an appraisal solution.
This year, TCAD added an online portal to replace face-to-face meetings. In May, TCAD told KXAN they are trying to automate as much of the process as possible. TCAD had 40 panels to hear protests, compared to 10 panels two years ago.
The Appraisal Review Board estimated that it will only be able to allow 12 minutes for each formal hearing.
Back in April, Crigler explained that a growing number of people come to TCAD to protest their appraisals each year. In fact, last year TCAD received more than 142,000 protests. They worked with a third-party group to study why they had such a high volume of protests and found that 75 percent of those people were protesting taxes rather than the actual appraised value of their property. This led Travis County to create a new website last year to help people search and gain more information about which entities are taxing them.