Guest Editorial: Nick Vonas, MCAD applied absurd valuation methodology in order to increase taxes

Nick Vonas, Guest Editorialist to The Golden Hammer
First, thank you for your story regarding the assessment increases from Montgomery Central Appraisal District (MCAD). I believe that significant public resistance is long overdue. We have also been affected by the increase in valuation, especially the ridiculous methodology this year of the sudden and unrealistic increases in land values.
I wanted to add some comments as part of my personal effort to work for reasonable taxation. I am also contacting our local representatives and Comptroller Office, however it appears that the Comptroller office allows a significant amount of “latitude” for the county appraisal offices. So who exactly controls the appraisal office?
The MCAD website includes a statement about Section 23.01a General Appraisals that denotes appraisals are based upon Jan 1 values. It further notes that “due to the fact that the current health crisis occurred after January 1, 2020, any impact on values will be reflected in the tax year 2021 valuations as indicated by the market at that time”.

This is patently absurd and appears to be a thinly veiled basis to arbitrarily increase valuations. If valuations are raised in the current depressed economic climate in 2020, it is extremely doubtful that with any sort of expected moderate improvement in 2021 there will be any realistic relief. Yes, first COVID cases were documented towards the end of January, with the economy dropping dramatically almost immediately thereafter. However, the timeframe is so close it is not unreasonable to question why the appraisal district did not reflect the dramatic impact from January to April, when the Notices of Appraised Value were finally sent out.

Section 23.01c also includes (summarized) “…. the chief appraiser may not exclude from consideration the value of other residential property that is in the same neighborhood as the residence homestead being appraised and would otherwise be considered in appraising the residence homestead because the other residential property:

(1) was sold at a foreclosure sale conducted in any of the three years preceding the tax year in which the residence home is being appraised and was comparable at the time of sale based on relevant characteristics with other residence homesteads in the same neighborhood; or (2) has a market value that has declined because of a declining economy….”

Subsection (e) states that “… the burden of proof is on the chief appraiser to support an increase in the appraised value of property under the circumstances described in this subsection.”




It appears that these other noted sections of the Tax Code were conveniently ignored and that the current MCAD assessment methodology is to slightly reduce or maintain site improvements (house) and suddenly skyrocket land values. In our case, homesite was reduced 13.4% and land value was increased 294%. Evidently cutting the lawn and pulling weeds substantially increased our lot value.

In my opinion 2021 will be an improved economy, meaning that not only do we get hit with increased assessments this year but next year as well, based upon their website statement. MCAD wins here on all counts – homeowners lose.

In addition, due to the distancing requirements, our ability to effectively protest is reduced. When you protest you have documentation. Whether informally or at Appraisal Review Board (ARB), you present this documentation and discuss it, as well as review MCAD documents. This direct dialogue is substantially hindered if you’re doing this via email/phone. Another plus for MCAD and another hurdle for homeowners.

I’ve never resisted paying my fair share, but in my view this round of assessments, in light of the hardships many residents are facing, is a thinly veiled money grab. Some have referred to it as price-gouging. Yes, I’m protesting as I have done in years past, with additional documentation, comps, MLS data, etc. plus looking at the usually inaccurate MCAD data of sales and median ratio development. We go through this – yet Section 41.43 of the Tax Code is very clear: “The appraisal district has the burden of establishing the value of the property by a preponderance of the evidence presented at the hearing”. Yet the appraisal district makes it seem (not by accident I believe) that it’s all on the homeowner.

2020 Montgomery County budget hasn’t been set yet and we are still feeling effects of last year’s increased assessments. The tax rate was decreased last year in light of the increased revenue from assessments – to me this says they didn’t need to raise assessments as much as they did. So here we are again with a budget and tax rate not yet set but MCAD raising assessments in the midst of a struggling economy. 

We need our state representatives and judges to help, but especially we need less public complacency.
 
Nick Vonas is a businessman who lives in Conroe.

 

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