Politics & Government

Frustrated Texas taxpayers pay up with coins, dollars

Tarrant County Tax Assessor Ron Wright shows notes sent in along with property tax payments.
Tarrant County Tax Assessor Ron Wright shows notes sent in along with property tax payments. kbouaphanh@star-telegram.com

Taxes can be, well, taxing.

And Tarrant County residents aren’t shy about speaking their minds.

Some do it with wheelbarrows of cash, or boxes of money, even snide notes attached to their checks.

“It’s their way of protesting what they believe are high taxes,” said Ron Wright, Tarrant County’s tax assessor-collector, who doesn’t set tax rates but does collect the payments. “They are demonstrating some frustration, letting off steam.

“We understand,” he said. “But that’s the exception, not the rule.”

Wright and his staff are now gearing up for the next round of feedback.

Property tax payments are due throughout the year, depending on whether you pay your bill all at once or spread out your payments.

The next round of statements will be mailed out in October. While the bills technically are due upon receipt, penalties and interest charges don’t begin until the end of January.

Here’s a look at how some Tarrant County property owners have paid their bills.

Forms of payment

About 30 percent of Tarrant County taxpayers pay their property tax bills in person at one of the county’s offices.

But some don’t bother bringing their checkbook.

One time, a man brought a wheelbarrow full of cash into a Tarrant County tax office to pay his property tax bill with dollar bills.

Former Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector, now Mayor, Betsy Price can’t even remember how many times taxpayers wrote “the Price you have to pay” on property tax forms.

Another time, a woman brought a box filled with coins to pay hers. (Unfortunately the box was so heavy she couldn’t carry it and had to push it on the floor — and then wait for a county employee to find time to count out the payment).

Sometimes taxpayers don’t use any container at all for their money, simply stuffing bills in pockets, socks, even bras — and pulling out bill by bill when it’s their turn in line, said Betsy Price, former Tarrant County tax assessor-collector and current Fort Worth mayor.

Price even recalls when some money used to pay tax bills had such an odd smell that the District Attorney’s office asked the Drug Enforcement Agency to check it out. Some of that money apparently had been stored around drugs, she said.

Mailing it in?

Most of the property tax payments are returned by mail, Wright said.

But county workers never know what they’re going to get when they open the envelopes.

We’ve had checks made out to ‘Ron Wrong.’ We occasionally get a Betsy Price check and sometimes checks are even made out to Betsy Ross.

Ron Wright, Tarrant County’s tax assessor-collector

“On their checks, some will try to be cute,” Wright said. “We’ve had checks made out to ‘Ron Wrong.’ We occasionally get a Betsy Price check and sometimes checks are even made out to Betsy Ross.”

Price hasn’t been the county’s tax assessor-collector since 2011, when she was elected Fort Worth’s mayor.

But she can’t even remember how many times taxpayers wrote “the Price you have to pay” on checks and property tax bills returned by mail.

Sometimes checks or envelopes will be made out to “Tax Suckers,” “Tax Ass,” “Tax Ass Collector,” even “head of the communist party,” instead of tax assessor-collector, Wright said.

Property tax specialist Mandi Chance scans property tax checks at the Tarrant County Administration Office in Fort Worth.

And some people alter the “In God We Trust” phrase on the back of the envelope, changing it to “In Bernie We Trust,” “In Greed You Trust,” even “In Greg Abbott We Trust.”

One person referred to the Two-Step method of renewing her vehicle’s registration on her property tax bill. That person wrote: “You may find the Texas Two-Step great. I find it a great pain in the butt and I’ve never liked country music anyway.”

Sometimes, there are vulgar drawings and writings on property tax bills.

“Normally people that come into the office to pay their taxes are very cordial and nice,” Wright said. “Sometimes they’ll be grumbling about the amount of the taxes.

“They say it’s too high. They say, ‘You people are taking my money,’” he said. “We don’t take those things personal. We take it in stride unless it’s really vulgar.”

Pennies and bills

Officials nationwide see the same problem: growing frustration among tapped-out homeowners facing larger-than-ever tax bills because of skyrocketing property values.

Just recently, two Illinois men drew national attention when they paid thousands of dollars of property taxes with $1 bills at their county treasurer’s office.

Frustrated by rising property taxes, Jeff McGrath took clear plastic bags filled with nearly $10,000 in one dollar bills, as well as a couple of checks, to pay his home and business property taxes.

He said he will do it again when the next installment is due just to make a point. “We are fed up with getting nickeled and dimed,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

I have always been amazed that more persons do not do something like [this].

Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington

Dan Aylward, meanwhile, took a black suitcase filled with stacks of $1 bills to pay his tax bill. But he actually overpaid his bill by two pennies on purpose.

“I gave them the two cents for my opinion,” he said.

Taxpayers are clearly frustrated by rising taxes locally and throughout the country, said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“I have always been amazed that more persons do not do something like [this],” he said. “It does show their exasperation.”

Saxe also believes such acts are more the exception than the rule.

“I believe most people just pay their taxes, fines, etc. and keep their frustrations to themselves,” he said.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

In 2016, more than 500 spectators packed a large auditorium at the University of Texas at Arlington for the Texas Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief hearing.

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