Finances

Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declined to freeze properties at their 2019 values, state Rep. Hugh Shine said Monday there might be another way to do that — but it would come at a cost.

“Over the weekend I discovered in my research … that actually appraisal districts in each respective county has the authority to certify their 2019 roll for 2020,” Shine said during his monthly forum hosted by the Temple Chamber of Commerce. “Now, granted going forward, there are some complications and issues. That would have a second and third order effect later on down the road. But they do have the authority.”

Overall, Bell County property values increased 8.11 percent to a preliminary value of $21.5 billion, according to the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County data. At least 4,500 residents have filed protests to possibly have their appraisals decrease when values are expected to be certified July 25. The deadline to protest is June 13 for those who received their appraisal notices mailed on May 14.

“You’ve got a lot of folks out there who believe freezing those property values and certifying the rolls for 2020 under the 2019 (values) is the way to go, a lot of folks,” the Temple Republican said. “I don’t think that debate is over yet. I think there are still a lot of undetermined effects of what that would do to the overall structure.”

One potential impact of using 2019 values this year would be on school funding.

The state determines the amount of funding a school district receives annually based on a study of locally appraised property values. That study — which is conducted by the Texas Comptroller’s office — also is used to see if appraisal districts are appraising property at market value.

It brings up a multitude of questions.

“You’ve got a lot of different opinions of what kind of impact this would be. How much of an impact? Is this going to affect the property rich schools, the property poor schools or all schools? And it does have an impact on what the state does to match funding coming into the local school districts?” Shine said, listing off some questions that would need to be answered before any appraisal district decides to freeze values. “That’s the most important effect.”

Shine plans to discuss that issue more with his property tax work group — which workshops ideas for bills for the upcoming legislative session — later this week.

School funding would not be the only thing possibly affected by freezing values.

“Plus if you freeze the values and the economy recovers significantly and you have the legislation that says assessments need to be at 5 percent above or 5 percent below of market value then the next appraisal process would create, probably, a tenfold or hundredfold more concerns by property owners because of the statutory requirement of bringing property values up,” Shine said.

Bell County Commissioner Bill Schumann pointed out that these effects are built into existing law.

“A lot of the effects you’re talking about are in our state statutes that can’t easily be changed because of a one-time change in the appraisal values,” he said. “I’m just curious to whether or not those follow-on legislative issues would be addressed if they changed the appraisals.”

Any adjustment to the revenue process, Shine said, will have effects.

“We’re probably not even aware of what they even are until they occur,” the legislator said. “The idea is to try to figure out to the best of our ability what it could impact and I do know that the school funding aspect would be impacted and that’s the thing most everybody talks about. Not much discussion what it would do to the next cycle on appraisals. There’s no question it would have an impact, and folks need to think about that as well.”