Conroe, May 1 – “We’re seeing obscene inflation of appraisals,” accused Woodlands Township Board member John Brown, when speaking of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District (“MCAD”), during an April 26, 2017, meeting. Brown is far from the only person complaining about MCAD’s proposed 2017 valuations which hit the mail approximately three weeks ago. Meanwhile MCAD Board members Charlie Riley, Mike Meador, Ed Chance, Bruce Tough, and Tom Cox seem to want to point the finger of blame anywhere but themselves.
The Golden Hammer has already reported several stories about major problems with MCAD’s proposal valuations. A first example is somehow they had forgotten to appraise Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal’s home but only included the land value for his lakefront lot in Blue Heron Bay subdivision on Lake Conroe. After this newspaper “outed” MCAD and Doyal, however, MCAD miraculously raised Doyal’s proposed valuation on his palatial lakefront home from $110,130 to $573,020.
Another example is the working widow whose mobile home’s proposed valuation for 2017 rose to $16,330 from the $3,430 2016 valuation, even though the trailer house is 41 years old and in poor condition.
Slap in the face of Allendale-Greenbough residents
On January 26, 2017, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark met with angry neighbors in East Montgomery County for over an hour to tell them that, at enormous expense of approximately $600,000 to the County and little or no cost to the private land owner who specifically caused the problem, Clark and his Precinct 4 staff intended to begin drainage control in the Allendale-Greenbough area off Conroe Porter Road on Monday, January 30. Clark brought representatives of Binkley and Barfield engineers to explain the proposed fix. The Commissioner admitted that he had not communicated with the landowner, Jesse Gonzalez, whom the neighborhood residents blame for the problem, even though Clark noted “he has clearly violated the Texas Water Code by diverting the drainage.”
For more than two years, the homeowners of the Allendale-Greenbough area off Conroe Porter Road in East Montgomery County have complained to Clark about Gonzalez, the owner of Thunder Gun Range at 17234 FM 1314, because, both the neighbors and Commissioner Clark have alleged, he has covered up area creeks behind their homes with his monster earth moving tractors. By diverting the natural flow of drainage, Crowson and the other residents allege, Gonzalez has caused homes to flood for the first time during these past two years when they had not flooded for decades previously. Every time there’s a hard rain, these homeowners face massive erosion of their properties and water damage to their homes, as both the homeowners and county officials have acknowledged.
Even though it’s already May 1, 2017, the County has taken no action to stop the drainage problems in the Allendale-Greenbough neighborhood. Neighborhood resident Paul Crowson has confirmed that the County admits it still has not approached Gonzalez to aid in the drainage fix.
Nevertheless, MCAD has raised the valuations of almost every single home on both Greenbough and Allendale Streets. Crown has suffered 24% increase from $103,200 in 2016 to $127,890 in 2017. Two community leaders, Jay Carlile and Nancy Alaniz, have suffered 8.2% and 6.6% increases, respectively. Meanwhile Dolores Villarreal on Greenbough Street has endured an increase in her tax appraisal from $64,160 in 2016 to $262,910 in 2017, a 311% increase. All of these increased appraisals have occurred in a neighborhood prone to flooding where the County has promised to resolve the problem but has failed to do so.
Who is to blame? 5 + 5 = 8.
As longtime Republican Precinct Chairman Jim Doyle has said, “A bank robber takes money with a gun but in this place they use the government to do it.” Who is to blame? Clearly, the five members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court as well as the five members of MCAD’s Board of Directors which sets appraisal policies. Since two of MCAD’s Board members are County Commissioners – Charlie Riley and Mike Meador – it’s really 8 people to blame.
There are two reasons Commissioners Charlie Riley, Mike Meador, former Commissioner Ed Chance who now serves as the Chairman of MCAD’s Board, and County Judge Craig Doyal should shoulder most of the blame.
First and clearly foremost, government spending is the driving force behind higher taxation. While appraisal inflation assists in the growth of property taxes, the reality is that, if spending was under control, so would be people’s property taxes. Longtime political activist Bill O’Sullivan, the “sage,” has said:
“The County historically was content to let the tax rate stay flat and apply the new appraisal which in reality was a tax increase. The Commissioners defended this by saying the tax rates didn’t go up so it was not a tax increase. Pure baloney. However, the only thing that matters is the growth of spending and the taxes are a function of that spending.”
Under the “leadership” of Doyal and Meador, the County government’s spending has grown 428% since 2000 while population growth has only been 84% during that time period.
As O’Sullivan explained, however, there’s a second reason that Riley, Meador, Doyal, and Chance should shoulder the blame. They’ve attempted to foster the fallacy that rising property taxes are all MCAD’s fault. That’s wrong both because they’re the ones who raised County government spending and it’s precisely that increase in spending that has necessitated the growth in property valuations.
Don’t blame me; I’m just a Board member
Riley in particular seems to want to hide behind the contention that he’s merely a Board member of the five-person Board of Directors of MCAD, and that it’s the appraisers, i.e., the staff whom citizen-taxpayers should blame. Legally, that argument just isn’t true.
Kris Allfrey, a Missouri City political activist and certified paralegal who has worked for appraisal district reform among other issues, has explained, “The County Appraisal District Board Members are nominated by and voted in by the taxing entities in the County. The CAD Board then hires the Chief Appraiser and he reports to the Board who in turn reports to the very taxing entities that put them on the board. The State does not appraise your property. The State does not set the tax rate for the taxing entities.”
In fact, Section 25.18 of the Texas Tax Code makes the members of the Board of Directors responsible for setting the policy for the manner in which the MCAD conducts periodic reappraisals of property. The Board of Directors, not the Chief Appraiser and not the staff, must identify and update the relevant characteristics of properties as well as legal and economic attributes that should impact reappraisals.
Since Riley and Meador sit both on the MCAD Board as well as on the Commissioners Court of the primary governmental entity causing government spending growth, they, along with Chance and Doyal, must shoulder the blame for the property tax burdens on Montgomery County taxpayers.
One final note anticipating the “it’s not us, it’s the school district” argument
The County Commissioners Court is the most visible focus of County policymaking. The school boards, special purpose districts (remember, Doyal is actually a board member of Woodlands Road Utility District #1), and other taxing entities look to the Commissioners Court for political leadership. Instead of tackling spending problems and looking for means to achieve economies of scale as Montgomery County’s population has grown, Doyal and Meador, the two longest serving members of the Commissioners Court, have instead opened the throttle of non-law enforcement spending.
Rather than focusing on careful planning and management of mobility (road and bridge) projects, Doyal and Meador, along with the new ally Riley, have begun to combust money faster than taxpayers can earn it. The $73 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 Decimation of Hope Highway project in the far southwest edge of Montgomery County is a leading example of their irresponsible spending. They’ve already spent $12.1 million of County general funds on that road project which no voters have approved. County Departments have no budget direction. The budget hearings for Fiscal Year 2017 were a disaster. They even prohibited citizens from speaking in statutorily-mandated “public hearings.”
Since 2010, when Montgomery County Republican Primary Election voters passed a referendum to limit the growth of County spending to a ceiling of the inflation rate and population growth, Doyal and Meador have pushed County spending $54 million beyond those limits in the current Fiscal Year.
As O’Sullivan observed, government spending is the engine behind the “obscene inflation of appraisals.”