AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the coming weeks, property owners in Travis County will have the chance to protest the appraised value of their homes in hopes of reducing their tax bill. But after the Travis Central Appraisal District changed how it handles protests, some question whether they’ll get a fair chance.
“It also gave me a perception that their intent is to cut off as many protests as they possibly can,” says homeowner Steve Neel about TCAD’s decision to discontinue informal, face-to-face meetings on appraisal protests.
Neel estimates he’s used those informal meetings 6 or 7 times to get the appraised value of his Allandale home reduced. Now, his only options are to protest online or at a formal hearing in front of the Appraisal Review Board, which the retired attorney admits is intimidating.
The decision to eliminate face-to-face meetings comes as the Central Appraisal District is being inundated with protests. More than 142,000 people had filed protests as of May 29, according to chief appraiser Marya Crigler. It’s unclear how many will opt for a formal hearing, but the Appraisal Review Board estimates it will only be able to allow 12 minutes for each formal hearing.
Crigler says TCAD has opened an online portal to replace the face-to-face meetings which she says is more convenient because taxpayers can protest without leaving their homes while allowing appraisers to evaluate protests more efficiently.
“We’re trying to automate as much as we can and go to an online process. Reviewing the evidence goes a lot quicker for us if we do it on an online portal,” says Crigler.
Unlike a face-to-face meeting where both sides can present their information and come to an agreement, the online protest is essentially a take-it-or-leave-it offer. The protestor enters their information and TCAD responds with an offer to reduce the assessed value. If the property owner isn’t happy with the offer, they can go to a formal hearing.
Protax, which represents taxpayers in their protests, says the average reduction resulting from an online protest is about 3%. Their average reduction from an informal hearing was about 6.5%.
“I don’t think it’s fair to most taxpayers,” says Neel.
Without informal meetings, the Appraisal Review Board is preparing for a huge spike in formal hearings this year. Crigler says they will have 40 panels to hear protests, compared to 10 panels two years ago.
There is advantage to taking your protest to a formal hearing. This session, lawmakers passed House Bill 1313 which says, if you challenge your appraisal and win, the Central Appraisal District has to show “clear and convincing evidence” in order to raise the value in the following year.