Skip to comments.Friendswood ISD Officials Manipulating Appraisal Process to Maximize Tax-Burden
Posted on 03/31/2005 5:39:21 AM PST by TXBSAFH
A LoneStarTimes.com investigation has exposed concerted efforts last year by two senior officials of the Friendswood Independent School District to maximize district revenues and increase the property tax burden of Friendswood homeowners by manipulating the appraisal process, issuing legal threats, and deploying unprecedented pressure on the Galveston County Appraisal District.
The FISD officials in question are Superintendent Patricia "Trish" Hanks and Tax Assessor/Collector Becky Carbone.
In late February of this year, LST made an open-records request to both FISD and GCAD asking for any and all communication between the two entities for the dates 5/1 - 6/30, 2004. Documents subsequently reviewed by LST staff reveal a series of disturbing actions by FISDs Hanks and Carbone.
According to a 6/9/04 memo written by Deputy Appraiser Mitch McCullough to GCADs Chief Appraiser Ken Wright, in early April 2004 FISDs Carbone intervened in GCADs preliminary and ongoing appraisal process by supplying MLS home sale information she had collected and compiled on her own. A source close to the matter who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of his position, tells LST:
"I dont know if FISD cherry-picked their data, but their intent was clearly to increase appraisals. Obviously, they are only going to present information that advances their position."
Carbones manipulation of GCADs sales ratio reports resulted in
" an increase in value to six neighborhoods."
according to McColloughs memo.
In a subsequent phone interview with LST, GCADs Wright indicated that the neighborhoods where property tax burdens increased as a result of Carbones actions were Castle Park, Regency Estates, Regency Estates Section Four, Sun Meadow, Carmel Village, and The Forest Section Seven.
On May 14th, FISD was informed by GCAD of their updated preliminary valuations for 2004. Still not content with the substantial increase in revenue they were set to receive, FISDs Hanks and Carbone insisted on what our source described as an "unprecedented" face-to-face meeting between themselves, several FISD board members, and Chief Appraiser Wright, to be held 5/27/04.
The evening before this meeting was set to occur, FISDs board of directors, at the request of Hanks and Carbone, unanimously authorized a "challenge petition" of Wrights appraisals to the State Comptrollers Office if necessary.
Although allowed under Texas Property Tax Code, such formal challenges being made to state-level authorities reflect poorly on county appraisers, and according to LSTs source:
"Its safe to assume that by authorizing this protest on the eve of their meeting with GCAD, FISD was hoping to intimidate Wright and get him to play ball."
Sources confirm that the meeting was held on May 27th. Hand-written notes on a related memo indicate that in addition to Hanks and Carbone, the three FISD board members in attendance were Mike Shaw, Rev. Hobrascht and John Ring.
In response to the meeting, GCADs Wright sent FISDs Hanks a letter, the full text of which follows (Note: Emphasis in bold added by LST):
June 16, 2004
Ms. Patricia Hanks, Superintendent Friendswood Independent School District 302 Laurel Drive Friendswood, Texas 77546
Dear Ms. Hanks:
After meeting with you, your tax assessor-collector, and several members of your Board of Trustees, I discussed your concerns about the level of appraisals for several of your neighborhoods with my appraisal staff. The additional information (sales) provided by your tax collector was evaluated and entered into our mass appraisal database. This changed our opinion of value on some properties. Some neighborhoods values were not changed because my appraisal staff determined that the level of information would not allow the CADs opinion of value to prevail. The CAD is held to a high level of accuracy before our Appraisal Review Board. The burden of proof in those hearings is on the CAD.
I briefed my staff on the importance of value increases to our taxing entities and emphasized the significance of every taxpayers hearing. While it is always wise to pay close attention to our property owners concerns, it is also important to keep the needs of our taxing jurisdiction in mind.
As you pointed out in our meeting, Friendswood ISD has historically counted on a 7-11% increase in value. The past three years bear this out with a 9% average increase during this time period. It appears that 2004 will fall a little short of that expectation after all efforts have been exerted to find additional value for your district. I personally know that Friendswood ISD with its student growth needs every penny that it can get, and with changes looming at the legislative level, we are all wondering where it will end up. I am disappointed that we could not meet your expectation with regard to value increases, but assure you and your Board of Trustees that we are making every effort to maintain an equitable and uniform appraisal roll.
Thanks for bringing your concerns to my attention. If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.
Ken Wright, Chief Appraiser
To summarize, Wrights letter contains the following revelations:
Confirmation that FISDs manipulation of GCADs mass appraisal database with their own home sales data increased property tax burdens in a number of Friendswood neighborhoods; Indications that much of the data FISD attempted to feed into the appraisal process was of such poor quality and questionable accuracy that GCAD dismissed it in its entirety; Because of FISDs pressure, appraisal district staff were encouraged to minimize the concerns of homeowners protesting their appraisals so that FISDs revenue could be maximized; FISD has enjoyed and appears to "count" on Friendswood homeowners property tax burdens increasing at or near the current 10% cap annually, and views any less than that amount as cause to pressure the appraisal district to find more revenue. LSTs investigations into attempts by taxing jurisdictions to influence the appraisal process to maximize homeowners property tax burdens continues, statewide.
Further revelations are forthcoming.
Bump and Ping.
He suggested that a simple solution to these taxing entities overvaluing properties would be to add a box on the home owner's copy of the appraisal marked:
While the home owner would still be free to protest the evaluation, checking this box would require the taxing entity to buy the house at their inflated price.
Last I heard 30 years ago, my ex-wife was teaching at Friendswood...
Just though ya'll'd wanta know.
If we continue our failure to properly supervise our employees in government this, and much more, is to be expected!
My wife teaches in Deer Park. And for the record teachers are not paid enough. Having said that the problem with these school district aren't the schools it is the Administration. On average half of the people who work for a schoold district are administration and support, they are not directly involved with teaching. Trim the fat in the front office and you would be surprised how much money there would be to actually teach the kids.
Same story everywhere.
As for over valuating homes to increase taxes......that goes on everywhere as well.
Sort of the reverse of this idea:
Property owner appraises his own property, pays taxes on that valuation, but MUST accept any purchase offer at that price.
Exactly, schools are no longer education institutions, they are bureaucratic jobs programs.
Gad! When my ex-wife was still my wife, she taught at Pasadena and we lived in Deer Park...
Small world, ain't it?
Except that, in that case, he may be forced to sell when he doesn't want to.
If this continues, we should consider changing the name of the state from "Texas" to "Taxes".
I would make a suggestion that every homeowner in Texas should protest their appraisal.
Since the appraisal process is "rigged", serious doubt regarding how much good this will do. Open to any suggestions regarding what else to do.
About $400,000 in our tiny little town.
In the meantime, the kids can't read, write, or do math because the teachers refuse to 'teach to the test'......
Cannot wait to get out of corrupt NJ
I plan on protesting mine (even if it goes down).
You coming down from NJ? Another Yankee --- there goes the neighborhood, ROFLOL.
Texas or as one poster put it "Taxes" is getting just as bad.
Sort of the reverse of that idea: People own their land outright, and don't rent it from the government, and the government reduces its scope and gets the money it needs to operate from elsewhere. (E.g. phone, gas, electricity, sewer, drainage, sales, income, and excise taxes, fees, traffic tickets ... do you suppose that could possibly be enough?)
Hey, I have grown to love yankees. My wife is from Methuen Mass. I do not have a choose.
Robert Heinlein proposed this idea in several of his novels. My main problem with it, is that if someone had a family property that they didn't want to sell. This system would force them to massively overvalue their property (and thus pay a lot more taxes than they would reasonably owe) if they wanted to keep it in the family.
LOL...planning on moving to CO......but it's going downhill too.
I was thinking Alaska but that is too cold for me.
What about secession and starting our own country? ROFLOL.
Tell me where....or we can become clones of John Galt.
florida does something similar.
In FL your home's (you only get one homestead) taxes can not increase more than 3.5% max per year. So the appraisers jack up the valusation as much as possible so when the homestead is sold, the tax amount is rebooted. Thus a longtime owner could be paying $1,000.00 but after the sale the new owner's rebooted rate could be $4,000.00
What really gets me in this discussion is the following:
1) The appraisal caps only reduce the rate of growth in government spending. Forget about actuallly cutting spending (TX politicans have turned into DC politicians).
2) If the local entities really need more money, they can ask the voters to raise the tax rates. The appraisals are set by the appraisal districts, so the local government gets more tax cash withour "raising taxes".
3) It looks like we will get increase sales tax and a new payroll tax without ANY property tax relief. The reduction in tax rate for schools will be only temporary as the appraisal increases will quickly erode the benefit.
4) Many of the opponents are Republicans. If no tax relief is passed this session, can you say "Democrat Controlled TX State Legislator"? Then we face more tax increases and another round of redistricting where the U.S. Congressional breakdown would be Dem 32 Rep 0 (and I am not joking).
5) As the article states, they are artificially jacking up the appraisals in some towns to satisfy budget demands. I know the 2004 appraised value of every house in my sub-division (I have one of the bigger homes). The information is public record and available on-line. Information will be used in the protest I am contemplating.
6) Another interesting point. Some politicans against the appraisal caps have had zero increase of appraisal value in recent years. Conspiracy? I would give odds on it.
Unless things have changed since Aug. '02 when I moved to TX, the Chicago Teachers' Union required that all administrative personnel working in the main Chicago school headquarters have TEACHING CERTIFICATES. Receptionists, secretaries, file clerks, etc. all received the same pay, raises and benefits as those in the classroom. Featherbedding at its zenith.
We have received an overwhelming number of inquiries into who people should contact to demand a formal investigation into the revelations LST has made concerning FISDs interactions with GCAD.
The good news is that an investigation is already underway. TX Attorney General Greg Abbotts office has had this letter in its possession for over three weeks, and the matter is under review.
What you can do, however, is encourage them to pursue the investigation not just into FISD and GCAD, but into the statewide practices of tax entities and appraisal districts.
Doing this is a little tricky the AGs office gets tons of phone calls on a wide variety of issues, and while the staff is polite and helpful, they have been trained to try to fit you into a particular "box" on their organizational chart. If you dont fit perfectly, youll wind up in the wrong place or be told you need to call the Galveston Co. District Attorney, the State AG doesnt handle this sort of thing, etc. etc.
So follow these instructions to the letter and you should be fine:
Call the AGs office toll-free at 1-800-252-8011. (Para Espanol, por favor, primer numero uno ahora.) Tell the switchboard operator using this exact language the following:
"Hello, I would like to speak with a public information officer about encouraging the Attorney General to pursue an ongoing investigation."
NOTE: Dont bother telling the switchboard operator what the investigation is about, how outraged you are, how your appraisal is too high, how your bunions hurt, or anything else. You are only going to complicate things and make it more likely you will be sent to the wrong "box".
You will be transfered. Once you connect with a public information officer, give them your name and city of residence. When they ask you the nature of your call simply say the following word for word:
"I am calling to encourage the Attorney General to pursue his ongoing investigation of the interactions between FISD and GCAD, and to encourage him to expand his investigation into the possibility of similar actions taking place between taxing entities and appraisal district statewide. Thank you."
NOTE: Again, say nothing about what happened in your last appraisal protest hearing or about your neighbors barking dog; they dont want to hear it, they cant do anything about it, you will only complicate matters.
If the public information officer tells you this isnt the right number to call, the AG doesnt handle this sort of thing, etc., simply tell them:
"I appreciate what you are saying, but that determination has already been made. The investigation is already ongoing in AG Abbotts office. I am simply encouraging him to pursue further a matter he is already looking into. Thank you."
Leave us a comment here at LST to let us know how your phone calls are going.
Well, yeah, but people will build in a comfortable bonus for themselves and a penalty for buyers and then they'll have added incentive to agitate for a lower tax rate, too! Don't forget that the system as it stands already allows condemnation for valuation. Would you prefer the government set that value or the homeowner? I know which one I'd be happier about!