Property values decline 4.4 percent in Tarrant County

As property values continue to tumble nationwide, Tarrant County values followed suit, with a decline for the first time in more than a decade, losing more than $5.5 billion in taxable value during the past year.

Countywide, taxable property values dipped 4.4 percent, with losses ranging from more than $5.7 billion for Tarrant County College to about $70,000 for the city of Reno.

Only four entities -- Pelican Bay, Westover Hills and the school districts in Aledo and Godley -- posted increases in property values in Tarrant County. Trophy Club posted a loss in the Tarrant County portion of its city limits, but when factoring its Denton County portion, values were up overall.

"It could have been worse," Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius said. "Obviously we would have liked it to be better. But it's manageable.

"Tarrant County is going to live within its means."

Certified tax rolls released Friday are generally the estimates cities and school districts use to set their tax rates and balance their budgets. Shrinking revenue is forcing some officials to consider layoffs, raising tax rates or cutting services.

But observers hope that a turnaround in property values is on the horizon for North Texas.

"Right now, there is more supply than demand," Tarrant Appraisal District Chief Appraiser Jeff Law said. "And overall in Tarrant County, there are more losses than gains.

"But I'm starting to hear that 2010 home prices are starting to rebound. We may be coming out of this, but only time will tell."

The small city of Pelican Bay had the largest percentage increase in taxable property values, jumping 22 percent, or $5.5 million, which officials say is likely due to the planned Laguna Bay subdivision.

White Settlement had saw the biggest percentage drop,16.4 percent, for a loss of $98 million in taxable values, mainly due to losses at Weir SPM Flow Control, an oil field equipment manufacturer that lost $30 million in inventory and claimed an $18 million freeport inventory exemption, City Manager Linda Ryan said.

The shrinking values could lead to layoffs and cutting back on hours that facilities are open. But Ryan said things are looking up because two companies -- Bufford Thompson, a construction firm specializing in building schools, and Cooperative Industrial Aerospace -- are moving their home offices to White Settlement.

Economist Ray Perryman of Waco said most cities will feel a pinch and are trying to defer capital projects, reduce overtime and take other measures that don't compromise essentials such as public safety. Low inflation is helping somewhat, he said.

Balancing budgets

The county is down $5.5 billion, but Maenius said he's optimistic that final tax rolls released in September will show higher property values. Either way, county officials are not looking at cutting services or raising the current tax rate of 26.4 cents per $100 of property valuation.

In Fort Worth, where city officials are searching for ways to close a $77 million budget gap, the appraisal district showed that the overall property value fell 3.7 percent, to $40.09 billion. That's good news, because city officials had projected an even greater decline.

"We're encouraged that the results were a little bit better than we projected," city Budget Officer Hortatio Porter said.

The city is still considering raising the property tax rate, which is already among the highest in the state, along with other options, including laying off some employees. In Arlington, property values dropped 5.8 percent, just over $1 billion, to $17.1 billion, officials said.

"This is the largest drop in 25 years," said Budget Manager Mike Finley, who noted that Arlington's steepest decline in value previously had been 4.24 percent.

The news isn't all bad, though. The city had braced for up to a 7 percent decline, so the drop in revenue is $800,000 less than expected, Finley said. That money, along with cost-cutting and revenue-generating initiatives, will help the city erase a projected $10.3 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, Finley said.

The Tarrant County Hospital District, which does business as the JPS Health Network, will see a 4.4 percent drop, or $5.5 billion, in net taxable value. But officials said they expected the decrease and don't believe that patients will feel the loss.

"We have to be really smart about our budget and we have to figure out where to make some changes," JPS Chief Executive Robert Earley said. "I don't see services being reduced or cut for patient care."

Most school districts in Tarrant County had a loss of taxable property value, although none lost more than those in Arlington and Fort Worth: $1.5 billion and $1 billion respectively.

In Arlington schools, the decline was slightly better than the 7.8 percent projected after the May preliminary appraisals. Officials are now working to trim the district's preliminary budget of $437 million, which includes a projected $8.4 million deficit. The budget could still grow by $2.6 million, pushing the deficit to $11 million, because of a state-mandated pay raise for teachers and other employee groups next year.

Administrative offices at several school districts, including Fort Worth, were closed Friday. Fort Worth schools' Chief Financial Officer Hank Johnson plans to study the figures Monday.

Impact on entities

A look at some other cities and school districts:

Bedford: This city had a 4 percent drop in property values, or nearly $120 million, and now officials are trying to get the budget in order. After values dropped last year, city leaders responded by raising the tax rate to 46.348 cents, the first increase here in years, said Cliff Blackwell, administrative service director for the city. Leaders could do the same this year.

Crowley school district: Figures for the Crowley school district showed a 7.7 percent slide in taxable value, although officials were expecting worse. "It's distressing, but not surprising, based on the number of foreclosures," said Kay Kizziar, Crowley schools' chief financial officer. Districts located in more than one county, including Crowley and Burleson, which posted an 8.5 percent decrease, must wait to judge the full impact. Johnson County will release its certified values Monday.

Grapevine: The city's taxable values fell 3.7 percent, to $5.97 billion. Still, "we're not going to grant an effective tax rate increase," Mayor William D. Tate said this month. "The economic situation is hurting everybody."

Hurst: Hurst Financial Director Clay Caruthers said he was reluctant to speculate on the effect of the 6 percent loss in property values. After a 1 percent decrease last year, the city "went through some budget reduction. There definitely will need to be some discussion [with the City Council] to determine how we'll address the 6 percent loss."

Keller school district: Property values dropped just 1.2 percent, costing the district more than $137 million in taxable value. "Impact to Keller ISD with a 1.5 percent decline in prop values in the general fund is negligible -- [the] state will help soften the blow," Deputy Superintendent Mark Youngs wrote in an e-mail.

Roanoke: Tarrant property tax revenues dropped 16.4 percent in Roanoke to $82 million, but Roanoke is mostly in Denton County.

Southlake: City officials said they expected taxable value to drop, and it did -- by 1.9 percent, or $102.5 million. It was the first decrease in years. Officials said they still plan to present a balanced budget at their August meeting.

Tarrant County College: TCC lost $5.7 billion, or 4.5 percent in taxable value. Joe Hudson, president of the board of trustees, said the college district anticipated the loss and is taking measures to deal with it. The district is combing through departments to save money by using equipment longer to extend the life. For example, vehicles can be used longer before they are replaced, Hudson said. No tax rate or tuition increases are planned. "I think we are going to weather the storm. ... We don't want to compromise quality," Hudson said.

Staff writers Aman Batheja, Hal Board, Alex Branch, Jessamy Brown, Elizabeth Campbell, Sandra J. Engelland, Terry Evans, Shirley Jinkins, Mike Lee, Nancy Matocha, Melody McDonald, Nicholas Sakelaris, Susan Schrock and Diane Smith, and correspondent Robert Cadwallader contributed to this report.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Darren Barbee, 817-390-7126

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