While little has been accomplished this session for taxpayers so far, some good news came today when the House unanimouslyÂ passed HB3490 which will prevent appraisal districts from suing property taxpayers when they win their appeal before the Appraisal Review Board (ARB).Â This common sense measure, which was triggered by a recent Wharton County case, that protects taxpayers from government-funded lawsuits when they have already won their case will now go to the Senate.Â The bill only applies if the value of the property is less than $1 million.
As you may recall, the Houston Chronicle had a disturbing piece about some Wharton County property taxpayers who find themselves as defendants in a lawsuit filed by their appraisal district after they successfully obtained reductions from the ARB. The chief of their appraisal district disagrees with the reductions made by the very people she appointed to the ARB so now she is hauling these taxpayers into district court, forcing them to incur legal fees in the process.
The reductions were granted based on the stench of a huge chicken farm that went in next to the homes – according to the article, no one disagrees that the odor of chicken feces is strong and putrid. It stinks even more that the appraisal district would sue its own taxpayers to avoid a loss of property tax revenue that is surely insignificant in the scheme of things.
Although it might seem fair for the current state law to allow appraisal districts to appeal ARB decisions in favor of homeowners since homeowners can appeal decisions against them, that overlooks the fact that the appraisal district handpicks the ARB. At least if the district can appeal, the law should be amended to require that they bear the legal fees of the taxpayer, which would likely discourage such appeals.
Of course, the larger issue is that this demonstrates yet again that there are so many unique circumstances that can affect the value of individual properties, making the property tax an inexact and often unfair means of raising revenue. This is one reason, along with the fact that you can control how much stuff you buy but not how much your property appraisal goes up, that many of us support abolishing the property tax and moving to a single consumption-based tax.