Some Tarrant County residents knocked tens of thousands of dollars off their taxable property values this week using the online tax protest system.
An ecstatic Henry Stanley of Eagle Mountain Lake says he knocked $65,000 off his taxable value. Tahir S. Ali of Southlake cut it by $67,000. Jeff Klein of Crowley trimmed $10,000. Jason Allen of Fort Worth waved goodbye to $8,500. Rick Bastin of Fort Worth chopped off $14,500.
The Tarrant Appraisal District's computer system received 1,200 online protests Sunday, the day a Watchdog report in the Star-Telegram explained how to lower taxable values. That was twice as many as had previously applied this year.
But others who might have wanted to try to lower their values complained that TAD placed them at a disadvantage because they didn't receive notices in the mail. Unless they thought to check their home's appraisal on TAD's website, they may not know how their home was valued or realize the deadline to file a protest.
"Not everyone has access to a computer to check their appraisal," says Ada Silver-Hauser of Bedford. Michael Burkham of Colleyville adds, "I guess if some people are overlooked on purpose with a notice, it is easier to assess what they want to."
Why didn't all Tarrant property owners get the notices?
TAD Chief Appraiser Jeffery Law says the law requires mailing appraisal notices only to owners whose property value increased by $1,000 or more.
However, my home value declined, and I still got a notice. Law explained that notices also go to properties that haven't been reappraised in three years.
In Houston, which launched the first online protest system, in 2006, Chief Appraiser Jim Robinson says the Harris Appraisal District sends notices to every property owner every year.
"We just always send them out to everybody every year, whether it goes up, goes down or stays the same." Why? "Because I think it's the right thing to do."
In Tarrant County, Law says TAD's board of directors and staff decided several years ago not to mail notices to each property owner. The reason? To save money.
But the blue mailed notices serve as useful reminders that May is tax protest time. The notice also contains a PIN for the online system to contest the appraisal. Those who don't get a notice must remember to call TAD each May and ask for a PIN.
Because notices don't go out to every property owner, many who could file protests may not do so.
Law acknowledges that could be a problem. "It's possible. Obviously, out of sight, out of mind."
Even if your appraisal was flat or went down, you still may be able to get a lower figure by using the online system, as I did. But time is running out.
If you got a blue notice, you have the information you need to protest online.
If you didn't, it's too late to use the online system because your PIN, which is mailed, probably won't arrive by the Tuesday deadline.
The other way to protest at this late date is to file in writing. Send a letter, postmarked no later than Tuesday, to Tarrant Appraisal District, 2500 Handley-Ederville Road, Fort Worth, TX 76118-6982.
You don't need an official protest form. The letter should include your name, TAD account number, physical address of property and your address (if different). Explain that you want to file a protest because you believe that the value is too high. Give a general reason.
And remember, from now on, look for your TAD notice every May. If you don't get one, check at www.tad.org or call the TAD office.
The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.
Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043