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