TOWN HALL MM 02

Misty Dawn Ballard speaks during a town hall about county issues with Bell County Commissioner Russell Schneider and Tax Assessor-Collector Shay Luedeke at the Fellowship Baptist Church in Morgan’s Point Resort on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Michael Miller/Telegram

MORGAN’S POINT RESORT — May 15 is the deadline for Bell County residents to protest their property appraisals.

During a town hall on Tuesday, Morgan’s Point Resort resident Anne Stephenson told the audience her recent experience with the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County.

She owns a small tract that was proposed to have a value of about $25,000, Stephenson said. Last year, that land was appraised at $8,400, according to property values.

So Stephenson, 74, stopped by the Tax Appraisal District’s main office — 411 E. Central Ave. in Belton — during its walk-in period. Residents can discuss their proposed property values with appraisers until May 15. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“I went into the office … and I went up to the desk. I was in and out of that office in less than 20 minutes and I had it reduced back to $12,000,” she said.

Stephenson was one of about 80 county residents who attended a forum to hear Commissioner Russell Schneider and Tax Assessor-Collector Shay Luedeke discuss county issues. Robin Battershell, the former Temple schools superintendent, moderated the town hall.

Schneider and Luedeke explained what they do in their elected positions. For the commissioner, he is responsible for roads and bridges inside his precinct and makes policy-making budget decisions.

Luedeke’s responsibilities are not what some people may expect of the county tax assessor-collector. Bell County has contracted property tax assessment and collection to the Tax Appraisal District since 1991, Luedeke said. Luedeke is responsible for vehicle registrations and titles.

Schneider and Luedeke stressed to attendees that the county government and the Tax Appraisal District are two separate entities.

The pair of elected officials also explained the appraisal process.

Tax appraisal districts are governed by the Texas comptroller’s office, Schneider said. The comptroller conducts a study that determines whether tax appraisal districts are valuing properties at 100 percent of market value. The study looks at each school district.

If property values are within a margin of error that ranges from 95 to 105 percent, the district fails that study.

At that point, the tax appraisal district would study the failing school district and appraise the values again. If the values do not meet 100 percent of market value, then the school district could lose part of its state funding.

“The tax code tells me that my job is to do a 100 percent of market value,” local Chief Appraiser Billy White previously told the Telegram. “To me, I’m not doing my job if I’m not doing what the tax code tells me to do.”

Bell County resident Misty Dawn Ballard questioned why the school districts affect her property appraisal. She pointed in the direction of the under-construction Lake Belton High School, and said that school — part of the Belton Independent School District — will only benefit the city of Temple.

Battershell, the former Temple ISD superintendent, told her there is a misconception that school district boundaries follow city limits.

“The city of Temple actually has five school districts,” Battershell said, listing off the Temple, Belton, Academy, Troy and Rogers school districts in the county’s second largest city. “So those lines are not clean cut.”

At the end of the town hall, Schneider offered a piece of advice to attendees.

“A question I ask myself is: Am I willing to sell my piece of property for what they have it valued?” the commissioner said, explaining that the answer to that query should influence a person’s decision to protest. “Showing up face to face does make a difference.”