A new law to eliminate conflicts of interest between county appraisal districts and the local taxing entities they serve is forcing one city official to make a choice: step down from his position as mayor of a large North Texas suburb or leave his job as chief appraiser.
Lewisville Mayor Rudy Durham, who is also Denton County’s chief appraiser, said it was an “easy answer” to resign his elected office and keep his full-time job with the Denton Central Appraisal District.
“I am not a fool,” Durham was quoted as saying by Community Impact. “I make my living as the chief appraiser.” Durham’s current salary for that job is $184,000, according to DCAD.
As part of priority property tax reform legislation enacted this session, Senate Bill 2 amended the tax code to disqualify elected officials and employees of local taxing entities from also being employed by their county’s appraisal district. That includes serving as chief appraiser.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) originally filed standalone legislation to eliminate conflicts caused by one individual wielding influence over both factors used to calculate citizens’ property tax bills: the property tax rates set by local entities and the appraised value of properties taxed by those entities.
After Bettencourt’s measure failed to advance in the Texas House, an amendment by State Rep. Matt Krause (R–Haslet) added the provision to SB 2 during House debate on Bettencourt’s property tax reform bill.
Durham complained that the conflict-of-interest legislation targeted him personally and was politically motivated. Bettencourt disagreed.
“[This] is a major conflict of interest and should not occur,” Bettencourt said in 2017, vowing to address the problem in a future bill. “The appraisal district should be firewalled off from the activities of the taxing entities; there is no doubt. It’s not even a question.”
Local government officials like Durham already control the board that hires the chief appraiser and provides oversight of the appraisal district. Every member of an appraisal district’s board of directors is elected—not by local taxpayers, but by taxing entities inside the county. The more property tax revenue an entity collects, the more votes they get.
Though clearly also a conflict, local officials may still serve on appraisal district boards. Two members of the DCAD board are elected officials: board president Charles Stafford is a Denton school board trustee; board member David Terre is a council member in The Colony. A third board member, Mike Hassett, is married to a trustee on Lewisville’s school board—the largest taxing entity in the county with the most influence in selecting DCAD directors.
Durham has served on Lewisville’s city council since 1994 and was elected mayor in 2015. His job at DCAD goes back even further, to 1986; DCAD’s board of directors hired Durham as chief appraiser in 2012.
Durham’s current mayoral term runs through 2021, but he said he will step down at the end of this year. Lewisville will hold a special election in 2020 to select a new mayor.