Monday, May 18, 2009

The Invasion of the Property Tax Appraisers

Property taxes play a significant role in funding government operations in the state of Texas. I pay property taxes to the city of Houston, the Houston Independent School District, Houston Community College, the Harris County Flood District, and numerous other entities. While the tax rate is set by the individual taxing authorities, the value of my property is determined by the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD).

The appraised value of properties has steadily increased for decades. My own home has nearly doubled in value in the past decade, partly due to market conditions and partly because of the many improvements I have made. The result has been a substantial increase in my property tax bill. And I am hardly alone.

For many home owners--particularly those on a fixed income--such increases can be devastating. The increase in property values has added nearly $100 per month to my tax bill. For someone on a fixed income, such an increase could literally tax him out of his home.

For example, consider Dave Nolder (HT: Houston Property Rights Association). In 2008 the appraised value of his home increased from $177,100 to $463,254, a jump of 271%. The Banner reported:
The first step was an informal hearing, which he [Nolder] says was "totally worthless, they would not change anything; it was a total waste of my time." He was given copies of the records that were used to appraise his property, and discovered the appraiser had determined the value based on sales of commercial properties instead of single family residences, some of the properties not even in the same part of town.

"They also compared the property," he says, "to properties on the other side of my land, even though these properties have no 'for sale' sign on them. The Appraisal District saw the need to raise their appraisals even though no land around this area has sold recently. Of course, these properties had the appraised value go up from 2007 to 2008, so the Appraisal District was comparing my land to land in which they had raised the value themselves."

In other words, HCAD arbitrarily raised the value of nearby properties, and then used those inflated numbers to increase the value of Mr. Nolder's property. Nolder says that his appeal hearing was a "dance and pony show", and the appeal board allowed him only 15 minutes to present his case "because they had a lot of protests".

As further evidence of the arbitrary nature of HCAD's appraisals, the appeal board lowered his property value to $275,000. They simply picked a number that they "felt" was right, with little concern for the facts or Mr. Nolder. The tax must be paid, or Nolder will lose his home.

Nolder--like many citizens--says that he doesn't mind paying taxes, he just wants them to be "fair". But what is fair about arbitrary assessments imposed at the point of a gun? No matter what value HCAD assigns, the fact remains that one party in this transaction is coerced. There is nothing fair about theft, nor can there ever be.

While it is impractical to abolish property taxes at this time, steps can be taken to provide some measure of justice to property owners. The most important step would be to return government to its proper function--the protection of individual rights. This would necessitate abolishing the Houston Independent School District, the community college system, the hospital district, and numerous other taxing authorities. Such measures would require gradual implementation to wean citizens from the elixir that oozes from the public teat.

In the short term, these entities should begin reducing their spending and cutting their tax rates. HCAD should freeze or reduce all property values.

Nobody--not even the government--has a right to forcibly take property that rightfully belongs to someone else.


Anonymous said...

"Nobody--not even the government--has a right to forcibly take property that rightfully belongs to someone else."

Unfortunately, Austin sided with Houston when they forcibly annexed Kingwood against their will...the majority of the people were fighting against it. Since then, our city tax burden has tripled and our city services are a complete joke.

Brian Phillips said...

That annexation was simply a power grab to expand the tax base. It is just another example of the harm that is done when government violates the rights of citizens.