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Before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Austin, the Travis Central Appraisal District was preparing for its busy spring season, when appraisal notices are mailed and protests filed.
It was already going to be a weird year. After TCAD received a cease-and-desist order from the Austin Board of Realtors last May, preventing access to home-sales price data, Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler announced in February that the district would not re-appraise residential properties in 2020.
This was a big deal in a county where 147,039 property owners protested their appraisal values last year, per TCAD data, and the median appraised home value increased more than 6% in the city of Austin, per budget documents.
New policies were also set to take effect. Most protests are resolved informally, meaning a property owner meets with an appraiser in an effort to resolve their concerns. Last year, TCAD handled all informal protests electronically, but some property owners were upset that there wasn't an in-person option—this year, the district had decided to resume in-person meetings.
But because of the pandemic, those plans have changed again—anything that can take place by telephone or online has shifted—and TCAD is preparing for a possible onslaught of protests.
The protest filing season began April 13 and will continue through May 30. Crigler said it's too early to tell if protests will drop this year, either because of the pandemic or due to the fact that homes will not be re-appraised.
"The load is light at this point, but that's to be expected," she added. "We see that every year."
But Crigler urged property owners to file their protests early, especially if they preferred to speak with an appraiser on the phone.
Another change to the protest process—already in place before the pandemic—is a new waiting period between when a protest is filed and when TCAD responds with an offer. The TCAD board made this decision in January in an effort to settle cases in a fairer and more uniform way.
"I want to make sure that a property owner doesn't get a better deal on Monday talking to Appraiser A than they might have gotten if they came in on Tuesday and talked to Appraiser B," Crigler said.
The appraisal district is also looking into how to scale its ability to handle the next stage in the process—the appraisal review board—on the phone or online, as opposed to in person. Hearings are set to start in June.
What will not be affected by the pandemic is appraisal values, because the notices sent this spring are intended to reflect market value as of Jan. 1. But next year's might be.
The impact of the pandemic on home sales has yet to be seen. The ABoR report from March showed little change, but ABoR President Romeo Manzilla told Austonia that would likely change. "Everything that was in the pipeline closed," he said. "We will see in April the true effect of the pandemic." In an April 22 email newsletter, Wendy Jansky-Serra of Realty Austin wrote that overall market activity is down by about 30% compared to last year.
Crigler's team is always looking ahead to the next appraisal season.
"We have not heard that there has been any significant price reductions in any areas, but we certainly have heard that there is not a lot of volume or activity going on right now," she said. "We will be keeping a very close eye on it so that we can appropriately adjust appraisals as necessary.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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