Finances

Temple resident Kenneth Harlan was shocked when he received his proposed property appraisal.

His 8-acre property in East Temple has a preliminary value of $190,848. Last year, the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County set his land’s value at $90,982.

If that number sticks when values are certified in late July, that would more than double his property value — and possibly his property taxes, if local entities do not change their tax rates.

“You think 8.11 percent is bad,” Harlan told the Telegram, referring to the county’s overall preliminary property value increase. “That is nothing because I just got the 2020 notice of appraised value letter stating my property value went up 109.76 percent, which (would) more than double my taxes.”

Appraised values in the city of Temple went up 11.48 percent. The city of Belton saw appraised values go up 14.23 percent. Salado Independent School District values went up 20.97 percent — the most for any school district in the county. The city of Troy’s valuations were up 20.7 percent — the most for any Bell County municipality.

Time is running out for residents who plan to protest their proposed property value. The protest deadline is June 13 for those who received their notices mailed on May 14.

Chief Appraiser Billy White said around 4,500 property owners have filed protests.

“They can either file by paper or by email or the most preferable way is to file online because that way they get immediate verification that their protest has been received,” White said, adding residents will need to be patient and flexible as the appraisal district receives an influx of calls and emails.

Visit bellcad.org to submit a formal request if you think that the proposed appraised value of your property exceeds what the market value was on Jan. 1. The 2020 proposed values do not reflect any changes caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

If you plan to file a protest online, your appraisal notice includes your PIN and owner ID — two pieces of information that you must have to submit the request. The PIN and owner ID are located at the top of residents’ appraisal notices.

“If they can’t find their notice, they can call up here and we can give them a PIN to set up their account,” White said.

Residents who plan to protest should bring evidence that their property’s market value is lower than the proposed figure or proof that the proposed appraisal was inequitable compared to their neighbors.

One person who has been through that process, Deborah Andrle, emailed documents showing her property in rural Salado Springs was appraised at a proposed $171,944 after being $72,290 the previous year. That came, she said, after she won an arbitration on the 2018 value to keep the property at $60,000 appraised value. She said two months after she won the arbitration the value was raised to $72,290 for the next year and she didn’t notice it in time to protest again.

After filing a protest, the appraisal district will schedule an informal hearing on Zoom, an online video conference application, to discuss their proposed value.

“For those who don’t do that or take advantage of the Zoom hearings or can’t because of their schedules, we might have more of those later,” the chief appraiser said. “If not, it’ll be the same process as in the past for protests where we will send letters at least 15 days prior to the Appraisal Review Board meeting.”

Once a protest is filed, a property owner’s value will not be finalized until the process is completed.

“When we certify, we only verify everything that is not under protest at this point,” White said. “It won’t be certified as long as they get a protest by the deadline.”

Preliminary values form the basis of local governments’ budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The appraisal district only sets property values while taxing entities, such as cities and school districts, set the tax rates.

Values are expected to be certified July 25.

Some state lawmakers and other local officials across Texas have asked Gov. Greg Abbott to freeze property appraisals at their 2019 values. Tax appraisal districts are part of the state government.

Abbott, though, has repeatedly said he will not do that. Instead, the Republican wants local governments to lower their tax rates.

“Property owners shouldn’t be saddled with rising property taxes while dealing with a pandemic,” Abbott said in a news release last week. “As a result, local governments, who set property tax rates, should find ways to reduce the tax burden on Texans. Whether we’re facing times of challenge or times of prosperity — raising taxes on the people of Texas is never the answer.”

Bell County Commissioner Bobby Whitson recently criticized Abbott for essentially passing the buck.

Whitson — who represents Precinct 3, which covers Salado, Harker Heights and parts of Killeen — said Abbott could offer a temporary property tax exemption under a new constitutional amendment voters approved last year or he could limit the annual appraisal increase on non-homestead properties.

“Thanks, governor, for throwing us under the bus while you continue to push expenses to the local taxpayer,” Whitson said on Twitter. “I’m a conservative, governor, and am doing everything I can to keep taxes low in my county, so you pointing the finger at us like it’s our fault while you tax all you want and push our appraisal values as high as you can to offset the state’s share of school funding isn’t right.”

TO PROTEST APPRAISALS

Visit bellcad.org to submit a formal request to protest the proposed appraised value of your property if it exceeds what the market value was on Jan. 1. The protest deadline is June 13 for those who received their notices mailed on May 14. Be sure to include your PIN and owner ID, both located at the top of the appraisal notices.