On Tuesday, Tarrant County commissioners unanimously approved using $7 million from the county reserve fund to ensure that property tax refunds are paid in a timely manner.
Last month, county taxpayers were told about another $8.7 million in refunds on top of $3 million that were already being processed. The refunds are occurring as the fiscal year is ending, which is a time when tax collections typically slow down.
“I believe we would have enough revenue to cover this, but that’s betting on the come,” Ron Wright, the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector, said.
The influx of money approved Tuesday will allow Wright to release $3.5 million that has been held back to Tarrant County’s other taxing entities. The tax office still has 2,675 refunds to process, totaling about $3.5 million, plus a $1 million refund check to General Motors.
“We’re going to be processing these refunds into October,” Wright said. “You can only process so many in a day.”
Wright and some other county officials have blamed the problem on a software upgrade at the Tarrant Appraisal District that made it difficult to produce a timely and accurate property tax roll.
If the systems problem at the appraisal district had been managed better, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this.
Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright
“If the systems problem at the appraisal district had been managed better, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this,” Wright said.
The tax assessor-collector’s staff met with appraisal district officials on Monday, including chief appraiser Jeff Law and Joe Potthoff, chairman of the TAD board.
The appraisal district is separate entity from the county. It is governed by a five-member board of directors appointed by the cities, school districts and other taxing entities.
In an email, Law confirmed the meeting and said, “TAD is committed to regular ongoing communications and meetings with the Tax Assessor Collector so our work meets their needs and the needs of those they and we serve.”
The problems this year began when the tax assessor-collector’s office did not get a supplemental roll in May. In June, they received three before finally getting one that was usable, according to a letter Wright sent to taxing entities this month. That led to a supplemental report with more than 80,000 changes and 5,100 refunds totaling $8.7 million.
Law has previously said the issues were not related to software. Instead, Law said, the issues were due to a higher volume of exemption requests and a bigger number of tax protests.
On Tuesday, Law declined to rehash the previous issues.
“The appraisal district’s focus is towards the future and moving forward,” Law said via email. “We will continue working closely with the tax office in all areas of property taxation.
“It has thrown a spotlight on the appraisal district and that’s where the problem is — it’s not with the tax office or with the county,” Wright said.
$1 million Refund owed to General Motors
Wright also said he has held back a $1 million refund to General Motors but told commissioners it would be paid on time. GM makes sport-utility vehicles at its Arlington assembly plant, which employs about 4,200 workers. GM also employs 3,700 workers at its GM Financial unit, based in downtown Fort Worth and also has an Arlington campus.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley urged Wright to send the refund to the automotive giant with the new influx of funds.
“I would get it out,” Whitley said.
After the meeting, Wright said that “people come before corporations” and that he would issue refunds to individuals before sending the check to GM. Wright said he would meet the Oct. 19 deadline to issue the refund to GM.
Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks said commissioners should be the ones to determine if “we’re going to cut off the spigot” and not have to read about it in news reports.
“I sent you the email before it went to the taxing entities, but I understand what you’re saying,” Wright said.
The next round of tax bills generating revenue won’t be sent out until Oct. 1. Wright said there should be enough residents paying taxes early to reimburse the county by the end of that month.
The idea for floating the money came from county commissioners, but Wright said he hopes it doesn’t happen again anytime soon.
“Generally speaking, this is not a good idea,” Wright said. “It’s setting a precedent of the county fronting the money for other taxing entities. We’re essentially loaning money to the taxing entities.”
This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.
Think you’re due a refund?
Tarrant County taxpayers with questions may call the tax assessor-collector's office at 817-884-1100.