This article only covers another portion of the interview with Runnels County chief appraiser PaulScott Randolph and Appraisal Board Chairman, Alvin Dunn. The next segment of the interview will be printed in the newspaper next week. The goal of the series of articles is not to pass judgment. The goal is to answer questions that the newspaper received via email and social media messaging. Dunn and Randolph were generous with their time and it would be biased to print just one point-of-view.
There are 2 boards; the Tax Appraisal District board of directors and the Appraisal Review Board. They are both covered in the articles, as well as the chief appraiser’s office procedures. There is also a different between the property tax rate and valuations, although, no matter how you cut it, high valuations mean people pay out more money just as a higher tax rate means that you pay more.
Anyone who attended the tax valuation town hall meeting on May 28th saw that it didn’t go as anticipated. It was set up by Ballinger city manager, Tommy Turney to address the concerns of the Runnels County taxpayers. There were problems with the sound system, there were communications issues between taxpayers and the Runnels County chief appraiser PaulScott Randolph, Alvin Dunn, chairman of the tax appraisal district as they attempted to answer questions.
There was a 30-page hand out given to several people at the beginning of the town hall. There were not enough copies for the approximate 200 people who attended and no one had time to read it before the meeting started. Social media websites have been ablaze with people telling of their experiences at the appraisal board with the majority of the experiences being negative.
The appraisal board, for its part, has not done a great job of educating the public or simply informing the public of the process that they use and how their valuations are carried out. Not only is there the 30-page handout, but there is also a 43-page Appraisal District Director’s Manual and of course, the tax code. It’s all very dry reading and can be complicated, to say the least. Many of the questions and concerns regarding property valuations and the way the board works can be cleared up with some good PR and by simply educating the public with something more than a handout.
Moreover, there does not appear to be a standard system for the appraisals, with each appraiser coming up with their own appraisal valuation for a property. Two appraisers can look at the same property and come up with 2 different valuations.
Tensions heightened recently when 4 people in the appraisal office were given raises, in spite of taxpayers speaking out against it. Two of the raises were from $28,000 to $30,000 and two more were from $30,000 to $32,000. At the budget meeting where the raises were approved Gore and others said that it didn’t look right to give the appraisers raises when the valuations seemed so skewed. The raises were given anyway because Dunn said that the appraisers had to take mandatory tests every year. Councilwoman Kristi Goetz was at the same budget meeting and said that many professions had mandatory testing every year and that the fact that someone had to take a test didn’t necessarily justify a raise.
Property valuations in Runnels County increased $63,350,000 and the appraisals for the city of Ballinger went up significantly as well, to the tune of $16,000,000.
One of the issues is with the appraisal board itself. As previously reported, Ballinger councilman Jason Gore, at the town hall meeting, responded to Dunn telling people that they needed to attend the budget meetings of the 17 taxing entities in the county by asking, “Isn’t the board supposed to be representing us, the taxpayers.” Dunn said that it was, but has defended the chief appraiser and other appraisers property valuations, even though some properties are apparently significantly overvalued.
Dunn and Randolph sat down with me for an interview that lasted almost 3 hours. They answered questions and attempted to clarify some of the information that has been inundating Facebook from angry taxpayers. This is the first portion of the interview. The next segment will be in the newspaper next week because it would take a full newspaper to print the entire interview for one reading. It would also be as dry as the tax code itself.
The questions and replies are below.
How are the appraisal board directors elected?
Dunn: “The city council elects theirs (representative). The county splits their votes up among the commissioners and the schools, I don’t know how they do it. I think that they have a tendency to vote their entire block for one person. I don’t think that they split their votes up. I don’t know how the City of Winters does theirs. You’ve got the 3 cities.”
Randolph: “You’ve got Olfen, Bronte, Panther Creek, Coleman, the votes are counted by their portion of the tax levy. Based on their levy is how many votes they get.”
There 17 taxing entities in Runnels County, including the school districts that Randolph mentioned plus the other school districts; Ballinger ISD, Winters ISD, Miles ISD, Taylor-County Winters ISD, Jim Ned CISD.
Randolph, “The votes depend on what the levy is that year.”
Dunn, “The City of Ballinger is probably 4th or 5th on this list in votes. Somewhere in that neighborhood. I do know that the county and the schools and hospital district are in there.”
With the county, the commissioners have a certain number of votes based on their precinct?
Dunn: “Usually that’s the way that they do it. Two commissioners can combine their votes if they wanted to.”
Randolph: “Everything in the appraisal districts as far as its governance, from how it’s run to the election of its officers, is different from any other government code. We have the tax code and also deal with the education code as well. As far as the administration, we’re on a really tight schedule every year. We certify the appraisals by July 25th. We’re in August 2019 but we’re now doing appraisals for the 2020-year. It moves fast. Everything is in the tax code. We don’t put anything out not put out by the comptroller’s office. There is no room for error.”
Alvin, who appointed you to the board”
Dunn: “Jeff and Sam and Rick Strubbe, I think. I never looked, I just opened up the letter and it said that I was on the board for 2 more years.”
Is there a limit to the number of directors on the board?
Dunn: “Yes, it’s limited to 5.”
Reading through the law and code and the handout, it seems like the information has always been out there. Is this correct?
Randolph, “That’s correct. It’s always been out there.”
Dunn: “I’ll give you the best explanation that I can. About 12 years ago, right after the previous chief appraiser left, we found out that she hadn’t done an appraisal in 4 years. So all of the sudden we got slammed. The valuations just jumped up.”
Randolph: “In the past we have been off the schedule. I went back through the minutes, all the way back to the begining and found no place where it said where we had staggered the directors on the appraisal board. I went to our attorney and he said that we could extend directors one year to get it staggered. It has taken considerable effort to bring everything in line. You can see the jurisdictions that are allowed to vote, the number of votes based on the levy. The percentage of the levy x 1000, per 100. That is the members and their allocations of vote. It took considerable time. We had to rebuild a lot of data. It’s not the total levy. Some, like the hospital district can nominate but can’t vote, at least not in our county.”
How long is a term?
Randolph: “A term is 2 years. Every 2 years we could wind up with a new board if we aren’t careful. Then we have to learn everything all over again.”
Alvin, when were you elected?
Dunn: “I’ve been on the board for 15 years. I’m with the city, county and school. Roy is County, Joe is Winters, Sylvester is Miles, Gary Kemp probably has the school and part of Winters.
If you’re appointed, why do they have the elections?
Dunn: “Well, they just ask me. You have other entities that are going to vote to. Let’s say the city appointed someone and the school appointed me, then we’d be running against each other.”
Randolph: “It’s a nomination, really. I generally mail out the nomination forms in August. I receive the ballots in late September and then they’re voted on. Then I get them back before December and I notify the winner in late December. Each of the ballots also have to be approved in open meeting so each entity will have who they nominated.”
The terms are for 2 calendar years.
Dunn: “I joined the board in January 2004. The next closest to me is Sylvester who has about 4 years. Then Gary Kemp, Roy Brown and Joe Gerhart.”
Are the board members compensated?
Dunn: “No, we’re not.”
Is the Appraisal review board compensated?
Randolph: “Yes, they’re required to go to training every year. It’s 8 hours of training every year and they receive a stipend. The state averages $50 per day. I’ve met with them 12 times so far. That’s nothing for getting your tail chewed off.”
Can that not be increased?
Randolph: “It can be increased but it has to be between the chief appraiser and the board of directors. I can do it with the advice and consent of the appraisal board.” Dunn: “It’s in the budget and we try to keep it as cheap as we can. And one more thing, nearly every year, since I’ve been on the board, we’ve given money back to the entities except for the last 3 years. Prior to that, we were renting this building. Since then we’ve bought this building.” Dunn continued, “We don’t have a lawyer on staff. We don’t retain a lawyer. So we all voted to take some of the money that goes back to the entities and put it in an account so we’d be able to hire a lawyer if we ever need one.”
Why do entities get money back some years?
Dunn: “Well, it’s money in the budget that we didn’t use.”
I would think that 100% of the taxes would go back?
Randolph, “It’s our discretion on whether or not we return that money or put it in our savings.”
Dunn, “We were renting this building for almost $800 per month. Now we own it. What we try to do is, let’s take printing for instance. Our budget is $2500 but let’s say we only spend $1,200. That’s $1,300 we can carry over. If we come up under budget in some other area, we can do the same thing. We can also divide it up and return it to the entities.”
This year, according to Dunn and Randolph, the appraisal board spent $81,000 on protests. These are the 795 protests that went to the review board and does not include the ones handled informally because some can be handled at the counter by the appraisers before going to the review board.
The next segment will include Q&A regarding the problems with prior chief appraisers, valuations and clarification on some of the ways valuations and appraisals are handled.