Austin to Texas: Appraisal System Is Unconstitutional

August 30, 2015 by Kate Harrington

Back in May of this year, the Austin City Council announced that it would formally challenge commercial property valuations with the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD). But the City decided in June to pursue that challenge in a new venue so that certification of the tax roll wouldn’t be delayed; on Aug. 24, Mayor Steve Adler announced that the City would file suit against the State of Texas. The suit calls the current appraisal system unconstitutional, claiming that the market prices of commercial and vacant land do not match their appraised value.

The suit requests that the court declare mandatory sales price disclosure as necessary in order for appraisal districts to comply with accurate assessments.

Although TCAD is one of the defendants in the suit, TCAD Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler was with Adler on Monday as he announced the suit in a news conference, and has said the district supports the suit’s goals. Other defendants include State Comptroller Glenn Hegar and commercial property owners.

Austin Skyline
photo credit: Sunset Reflections (cc)

Adler said that this challenge is not about changing appraisals on specific properties or even about affordability, but is instead about fair and accurate appraisals.

“The lack of sales disclosures has made it nearly impossible for appraisal districts to comply with their statutory and constitutional duty to assess all properties at market value so that taxation is equal and uniform,” says the lawsuit.

Texas is one of 12 “non-disclosure” states, which means that property sale prices do not have to be disclosed publicly when a sale goes through.

“At the end of the day, be that at this end of this district court action, or eventually before the Supreme Court or back at the Legislature with new information, we need better data and we need better proceeds if the property tax system is to be truly fair,” Adler told the media during a press conference about the suit.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.