Now is the perfect time to shine a light on the public body that tells property owners in Tarrant County how much they have to pay in taxes.
Every year we seem to be reporting on delays or errors at the Tarrant County Appraisal District (TAD). During the next few weeks public officials will decide who sits on the board that is largely responsible for a fix.
The Star-Telegram's Anna Tinsley recently reported that several thousand local tax bills were still waiting to be mailed out just days before partial payments were due for some taxpayers on Nov. 30.
There is a disagreement about whether those mailings were delayed because of errors, as former Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright said in Tinsely’s report.
Chief Appraiser Jeff Law who oversees day-to-day operations says there were just 6,800 accounts, or less than 1 percent in question. He says most were property owners being evaluated for additional exemptions, including tax savings offered to seniors and the disabled. Other notices were delayed because of a spike in the number of property owners who protested their tax appraisals this year.
The delays for any reason, though, are a reminder of previous years when problems abounded at the Tarrant County Appraisal District.
To borrow from baseball’s great philosopher Yogi Berra: it seemed like déjà vu all over again.
We do know that the conversion to a new software system in 2014 caused a series of glitches.
In 2015 the appraisal district was on the hot seat after software errors resulted in local school districts including Fort Worth, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw and Grapevine-Colleyville being shorted more than $140 million in local revenue.
Last year appraisal notices included confusing or incorrect deadlines for filing tax protests. .
Assessment errors in 2016 left Tarrant scrambling to repay millions of dollars in property tax refunds.
An audit released last December concluded the Tarrant Appraisal District did not clearly outline technical requirements and properly test new computer software before putting it into use two years earlier.
Ultimately, the appraisal district’s five board members are responsible. They make up the governing board.
But when you look at the process for selecting them you can see why it may be a case of too many part-time cooks in the kitchen.
The state property tax code dictates how counties throughout Texas select their appraisal district board members.
In Tarrant County, officials with 73 public bodies that receive funding through property tax collections are voting to determine which candidates will serve on the board for the next two-year term. Those voting include members of city councils; county commissioners; and representatives of water districts, school districts and hospital districts.
The five selected board members and the tax assessor oversee district operations but they are only required to meet four times a year, and the appointed board members are not paid.
Daily operations in Tarrant currently fall to Chief Appraiser Law who reports to the board.
Law believes the appraisal district has turned a corner. He says “2017 was our best year yet,” following the computer conversion. He said more resources might have sped up the handling of tax protest cases but everything else went smoothly.
We hope he’s right. We hope new and returning board members will either affirm that or get to the bottom of any problems and fix them.
If property owners have a responsibility to contribute their fair share, then the tax appraisal district has a responsibility to provide timely, accurate tax information. Property owners shouldn’t have to work extra hard to figure out how much they owe or worry that the amount they’re paying is correct.