FORT WORTH -- Dozens of people lined up at the Tarrant County Administrative Building during the lunch hour Monday to pay their property tax bills before today's deadline.
The phone lines at the tax assessor-collector's office were stacked up, too, with a backlog of 15 calls at 9:30 a.m.
"I always wait, I don't know why," Patrick Cox of Keller said as he stood in line. "It's the biggest check I write every year."
Over the last week, county tax workers have received $65 million to $75 million a day in property tax payments, said Ron Wright, tax assessor-collector.
All told, the county tax office will collect about $2.9 billion in taxes on property valued at $123 billion, officials said.
Payments are due at the county tax office or must be postmarked on or before Jan. 31. The first quarterly payment for people 65 and older is also due, with a second payment due March 31.
"It's a big day for us, and Tuesday will be even bigger," Wright said Monday. "There are an awful lot of people who hold on to it until the last day, which is fine. I surely understand that; it's your money until you give it to me."
Missing the deadline can be costly. Stiff late fees start at 7 percent on Feb. 1 and increase monthly to a maximum of 12 percent in July. Interest accrues at 1 percent per month until the account is paid in full. On July 1, accounts are turned over to tax attorneys, which adds a penalty of 15 percent on the unpaid balance.
With those sorts of penalties, only a tiny percentage of Tarrant County's 567,661 residential accounts aren't paid on time, Wright said.
Downtown tax workers will be beefing up staff at seven subcourthouses today to handle the last-minute crush before doors close at 5 p.m.
"It really hits the subcourthouses pretty ferociously on the last day," Wright said.
For most homeowners in Texas, which has no income tax, property taxes are the biggest bite of the year. The taxes fund public operations ranging from county and municipal governments to public safety and courts, with schools taking the biggest slice.
Overall, Tarrant County property taxes went up about 1.9 percent in 2011, with real estate values increasing by 1.4 percent, a $1.5 billion increase, said Jeff Craig, director of administration for the Tarrant Appraisal District.
In 2010, values declined about 1 percent, the first overall drop in valuation in Tarrant County since 1993.
Including commercial, agricultural, industrial and mineral accounts, the Tarrant district appraised 833,341 properties last year, moving ahead of Dallas to become the state's second-largest district behind Houston in the number of properties, Craig said.
Mineral accounts jumped to a new peak of 156,203 from 147,122 in 2010. The number of mineral accounts is expected to climb by 50,000 this year, Wright said.
At the same time, a sizable number of homeowners successfully lowered their taxes by protesting their property values, Craig said.
Nearly 70,000 filed notices of intent to protest in 2011, but only 19,315 carried it on to the appraisal board. Of those, about 13,000 had their property values lowered, he said.
Meanwhile, a growing number of people are opting to pay the taxes in two installments, with the first payment due Nov. 31, Wright said.
And more people are opting to pay online or with credit cards, he said.
But Jeff Hodges, a tax assessment manager who was directing traffic at the county building, noted that paying by credit and debit cards incurs service fees from card companies.
The new appraisal year started Jan. 1, and May 2 is the deadline for the appraisal district to mail property tax notices. Preliminary estimates of values will be given to tax jurisdictions May 15.The deadline for filing a protest will be May 31 or the 30th day after the tax notice is delivered.
Lewis Stabler of Fort Worth made his payment Monday. "I was behind for a while, but I'm caught up now. It's always tough," he said. "It never goes down."
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981