Appraisal district boards may be elected in the near future

Published 2:35 pm Saturday, December 3, 2016

The next session of the Texas Legislature starts in January 2017 and one local lawmaker would like to see the board of directors in appraisal districts in Texas elected rather than appointed.

State Rep. Dade Phelan, District 21, said according to the Local Government Code different governmental entities — city, county, school districts and special districts — picks the board for the appraisal districts to represent them.

“The people should pick,” Phelan said. “To me, it’s taxation without representation.”

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Under Phelan’s plan, the board members represented would correspond to the county commissioners map. Four members would be elected as with county commissioners. The county’s tax assessor-collector would be in charge of the board.

He believes politics already plays a part in appointment the board of directors and not just in elections; it’s a question of how much impact would those politics have on people’s lives.

“I work in real estate, so I understand the frustrations of dealing with the appraisal board,” he said. “People don’t understand how the system operates.”

He gave as an example how the homestead exemption was increased by $10,000 and no residents saw any benefits because their appraisals went up. Additionally, timber values went up significantly.

When Phelan gets to Austin in January, however, he won’t be alone in filing legislation to rework the way appraisal district boards are ran.

“It will be a big year for appraisals and property taxes. Other similar bills to mine have been filed but I think mine is the best,” he said chuckling. “Four or five have already been filed, but I think mine is the most pure in democratic form.”

Phelan said one area of note in regard to appraisals were residences that have a half-story to the house being taxed as a second story, even if the half-story was an attic.

“Something was done by the chief appraiser and the board to change this on a whim. There’s no accountability,” he said.

In a prior News article that ran in May, it was last reported that Brent Coon and Associates, a Beaumont law firm, announced via press release they were dropping their class action lawsuit against the Jefferson County Appraisal District. However, their client, Elaine Henderson, was circulating a petition to get the chief appraiser’s salary to be adjusted.

Attorneys Brent Coon and Bailey Wingate’s press release, likewise, requested the JCAD Board of Directors terminate Chief Appraiser Angela Bellard from employment.

Coon said the prior basis of the class action lawsuit released on April 15 was their client, Elaine Henderson, and those like her, 8,000 of them, who own a 1.5 story home and have had their home values arbitrarily increased across the county.

Coon said Henderson’s home increased more than $40,000 in a single year and she’s past the point of a formal protest to the Jefferson County Appraisal District.

The key witness in the proceedings is Bellard, chief appraiser for the JCAD. Coon said Bellard exercises much control and authority over the JCAD and the board merely rubber-stamps and puts her program into place.

Henderson’s petition read as follows:

“We the petitioners want more OVERSIGHT and TRANSPARENCY between JCAD and the taxpayers such that taxpayers are notified of scheduling changes to their property making it easier to protest their appraisal value and understanding better the protest process.

Explanation of why the limited self-reported sales data was used to increase the 1.5 level homes from 2014 despite the 2013 year showing the opposite without a reduction being given to the 1.5 level homes. This upward scheduling was county wide to this classification of homes. In addition to this the same 2014 sales data had  approximately 35% of the homes in the data raised even though there was a concrete sale price below JCAD’s appraised value.  It was been reported by employees of JCAD that the new Chief Appraiser  Ms. Angela Bellard directed that the data not showing what she would like is thrown out to improve the data accordingly to her satisfaction.

That the scheduling change made in 2015 on 1.5 level homes be adjusted to reflect the 2013, 2014 and 2015 data and then to adjust the scheduling change using all data.  Also the new scheduling be retroactive to include both 2015 and 2016

That Ms.Angela Bellard answer and be held accountable for having documented and signed a letter threatening at least one of the above referenced JCAD employees with termination if they did not become a team player and abstain from criticizing Ms. Bellard’s practices.  This could be a violation of the The Texas Whistleblower Protection Act.

That Ms. Angela Bellard’s salary be reevaluated and the appropriate adjustment be a made in her salary to come more in line with a second year chief appraiser and for the size of Jefferson county and its budget, accordingly.   Note that county commissioners, the tax assessor collector, and the sheriff make approximately $90,000 in Jefferson County.

That Ms. Bellard be held accountable by the Board of Directors for having admitted in a deposition under oath to possibly committing several misdemeanors in violation of the appraisal code.

Please understand that if we do not stand up for our rights as a taxpayer things will never get better and the County, Cities, School Districts and other entities will continue to collect taxes on appraisals that were not done according on a schedule that was arrived at without using the appropriate data.”

Bellard said the appraisal district board of directors set the budget, hire and fire the chief appraiser and preside over certain committees.

“I don’t see what he’s (Phelan) is trying to achieve with this,” Bellard said. “What would the candidates campaign for? I think they would lose their integrity while trying to please the public.”

“They work for free now. Would there now be a paycheck involved? Would the appraisal district pay for it? Would that expense be tacked on the taxing entities? I don’t see anyone running for the office without pay.”

The Board of Directors of the Jefferson County Appraisal District is comprised of five members who are elected by the governing bodies of the taxing entities within the district, according to the Jefferson County Appraisal District website. The county tax assessor-collector serves as a nonvoting director if that person is not appointed to serve as a voting director.

The members of the board of directors for the current term of office are: Tax Assessor-Collector Allison Nathan-Getz, Eugene Landry, Charles Lankford, Lauren Mason and Louis Reed Jr.

The board of directors oversees the activities of the appraisal district. They do not appraise property or make decisions that affect the appraisal records; instead, they select the chief appraiser, adopt the budget, appoint the appraisal review board, and make sure the district follows policies and procedures set by law.

David Ball: 409-721-2427