After a year hiatus, the Travis Central Appraisal District plans to reappraise home values in 2021. Area school districts welcomed the news, but some criticized the appraisal district's response, saying it compounded the financial losses of the pandemic and ignored an ongoing dispute with the Austin Board of Realtors.
"Surely of all the years that this could have happened in terms of what schools and teachers have been struggling with, they picked a pretty bad year," Eanes ISD Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard told Austonia.
A hot market
When TCAD announced in February that it would not reappraise home values this year, representatives from eight Travis County school districts wrote a letter saying that doing so would negatively affect their budgets, which are almost entirely funded through property tax revenue.
This, some say, is exactly what happened.
"We would have been $3.5 million higher in our revenue if the appraiser would have appraised the property values the way all of the indicators that were announced by everyone," Leonard said. "Multiple sources said that the residential property in our area was north of 9% (growth)."
Because TCAD didn't reappraise home values this year, however, Eanes ISD saw a more modest increase in its tax revenue—around 2.9%, according to TCAD data, thanks to new construction and other improvements—than it had planned for.
Leonard said this was "a significant deciding factor" in the school board's decision to freeze teacher salaries.
"The appraiser's inability to come up with a solution for seven months when she knew this was a problem and while other counties did come up with a solution to this (same issue) had a definite effect on teachers' wellbeing," he said.
Other school districts echoed Leonard's assessment that they would have collected more revenue had homes been reappraised.
Austin ISD Chief Business Officer Larry Throm estimated the school district lost around $2 million in property tax revenue, of which it collected $1.57 billion this fiscal year.
Round Rock ISD CFO Dr. Kenneth Adix couldn't be sure of the exact amount the school district would have collected had TCAD reappraised home values this year but said any loss was significant given that RRISD is facing a $15 million deficit due to the pandemic.
Not every district faced a shortfall, however.
"There was really no impact to Lake Travis ISD due to the non-appraisal," Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Pam Sanchez said.
LTISD is a property wealthy district, like Eane and Austin ISDs. As a result, Sanchez said any property tax revenue the district lost out on would likely have been sent back to the state through the recapture system.
A data dispute
Texas is one of 12 non-disclosure states in the U.S., which means real estate sales prices and other market data are not publicly available.
So TCAD relied on home-sales price data from the Austin Board of Realtors that it accessed through third-party vendors—at least until last year, when ABoR sent the appraisal district a cease-and-desist letter, arguing that its market data was proprietary and prohibiting further access.
Although appraisal districts across the state rely on other sources of data, such as sales questionnaires and title company inquiries, TCAD Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler said it wasn't enough to appraise residential properties accurately or legally.
"It's a fundamental flaw in our property tax system that appraisal districts are required to appraise properties at market value but that we have such difficulty getting access to the data," she said.
In February, Crigler announced TCAD would not reappraise residential properties this year because of the data dispute with ABoR, which denied any culpability.
Regardless of which agency was at fault, not reappraising home values in a hot market was a big deal.
City budget documents show the median appraised home value increased more than 6% in 2019, with some reports suggesting even more substantial growth this year.
A new solution
Last month, Crigler announced that she had found a new sales data product from Carahsoft Technology Corporation and TransUnion that would help TCAD reappraise home values in 2021.
The TCAD board voted unanimously to approve a contract.
"We have had both our attorneys and the attorneys from Carahsoft and their partners give us assurances (that there will be no legal issues with ABoR)," Crigler said.
ABoR, however, is less sure.
The organization filed a public information request with TCAD to learn more about the Carahsoft contract—specifically, whether it relies on use of ABoR's proprietary market data.
"Transparency and openness are the hallmarks of good governance and public service, especially if TCAD is operating above board in the public interest," Chenevert said. "We believe that our request will win out."
A TCAD spokesperson said the appraisal district has contacted the Texas Attorney General's office for guidance on some of the documents that may be released as a result of request that contain confidential information.
In the meantime, school districts welcomed the news that TCAD expects to reappraise home values in 2021 thanks to its contract with Carahsoft.
"This is a positive development for Round Rock ISD as the vast majority of the (school) district's operating funds are from property taxes," Sanchez said.
But Leonard said the damage will last past 2020 because property tax revenue that Eanes ISD collected this year determines the cap that applies next year.
"The problem that we have now is that we can't get last year back," he said. "For all the staff that had their salaries frozen, they cannot get that back."
There has been little public outcry on this issue, Leonard added, which may be the result of the pandemic or the intricacies of public school financing in Texas.
Or something else entirely.
"Everybody's taxes stayed low," he said.
This story has been updated to include a response from TCAD regarding ABoR's public information request and to clarify that Eanes and Austin ISDs are property wealthy districts, like Lake Travis ISD.
More on real estate:
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- Travis Central Appraisal District says it will reappraise homes in 2021 ›
- Eanes ISD school board incumbents beat challengers in May 1 race - austonia ›
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Expect some whiplash this week, Austinites: with an expected high of 103 degrees, Monday is predicted to be the hottest day of the year, but a midweek cold front is on the way to bring that first glimpse of fall.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport could see its first 100-degree temperature this year on Monday as temperatures citywide are expected to exceed this year's record of 102 degrees.
The cold front arrives Tuesday afternoon to evening.#atx #atxwx #cbsaustinwx https://t.co/rQni6ug3y4 pic.twitter.com/PoFeHPYtnM
— Chikage Windler WX (@ChikageWeather) September 20, 2021
After a typical summery Tuesday with highs in the mid-90s, Wednesday will welcome the first signs of fall as a cold front drops lows into the 50s.
Expect more wind and a chance of rain come Tuesday with a 40% chance of scattered storms. The cold front, which should last through Friday, will bring drier, crisper air that could cause fire hazards on Wednesday.
Highs will be in the upper 80s and lows in the 50s and lower 60s for the front's final two mornings.
After near record heat today, a cold front arrives tomorrow! Hang in there South-Central Texas, we have almost made it. pic.twitter.com/yd9UbNo7hY
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) September 20, 2021
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Around 75 dogs died in a fire Saturday night at Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown, according to the Georgetown Fire Department, leaving dozens of owners to mourn the losses of their furry companions.
The fire department arrived on the scene less than five minutes after 911 calls started flooding in at 10:56 p.m. At their arrival, they found flames and clouds of smoke, according to GFD Chief John Sullivan.
Twenty-five firefighters were on the scene, hoping to save as many lives as possible, initially trying to open some ventilation and control the smoke, though they were unable to save any dogs. Sullivan said his heart goes out to the families of the victims of the fire.
"I've been doing this for 29 years and this is the first incident that I've had where we've lost so many pets," Sullivan said. "I hate to use that term because, to me, a pet is a lot more than a pet—it is the closest friend. I wish I could convey my internal emotions adequately. I just wish I could go back in time to make it better."
Families of the fallen pets, who are believed to have died from smoke inhalation, have created a memorial outside the pet resort's fence complete with flowers, photos, notes and beloved toys of their friends.
No people were discovered at the scene—Ponderosa's boarding policies state that the staff feels that pets sleep better at night when no employees are there, so the pets are left unattended at night.
The fire department is still working to discover what caused the fire. Despite fire and smoke damage to the inside, the outer metal exterior survived the blaze. Based on the type of construction and occupancy type, the building was not required to have a sprinkler system.
"Quite frankly, I view my personal pet as probably my closest confidant, friend and the one that doesn't judge, so my heart just breaks," Sullivan said.
The fire claimed the lives of dog duo Bunny and Clyde, leaving owners and newlywed couple Don and Pam Richard devastated and angry KXAN reports, saying they wouldn't have left the dogs had they known they would be left unattended at night.
The Richard family is planning to petition the city of Georgetown, making it so that animals in professional care are never left unattended again.
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."