The Austin Chronicle

TCAD Challenge Suspended

By Michael King, June 26, 2015, News

As expected Monday morning, the Appraisal Review Board for the Travis Central Appraisal District effectively accepted the "agreed order" between the city of Austin and TCAD – suspending, for the moment, the city's challenge of TCAD's commercial property valuations. The suspension was essentially a tactical maneuver by Mayor Steve Adler and the city's attorneys, allowing the TCAD certification of the current year's tax rolls to proceed by the statutory end of Aug­ust – but then allowing the city to appeal the ARB decision to state district court, and meanwhile share its discovery information of commercial market prices with TCAD's appraisers.

Although the ARB's decision effectively accepted the mutual decision of the city and TCAD, it took the form of a vote by the 25 sitting ARB members to "deny" the city's challenge for lack of evidence. Following brief presentations by the attorneys and others (Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo among them), the somewhat perplexed ARB members briefly discussed the unexpected situation – one arguing that the proper action would be to "dismiss" the challenge, not deny it – and then voted to deny, 22-3. ARB attorney Peter Low said there had been no official notice to the board's members of the city's otherwise well-publicized strategy. "We didn't want to influence them in advance of the hearing," Low said, "and we had prepared for a three-day hearing."

The city now has 60 days to appeal, presumably sufficient to allow TCAD to certify its 2015 values and county taxing jurisdictions to prepare their FY 2016 budgets. That was the plan announced by the mayor at the June 18 City Council meeting; and Tovo told the Chronicle that the hope is that an eventual adjustment of commercial valuations will allow less of a burden on residential homeowners (including a potential revision of this year's values).

The denial is something of a victory for TCAD, although both parties say they're continuing to collaborate in the review. TCAD Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler said that TCAD has not yet seen the city's underlying valuation data, and she released a prepared statement continuing to question the consultants' report the city relied on in making its challenge. Her statement stoutly defended TCAD's appraisal practices, noting that they adhere to professional and legal standards and are also subject to a "rigorous" review by the state as well as independent appraisers. Moreover, Crigler's release continued, "the study commissioned by the City of Austin has multiple substantive factual and mathematical errors and utilizes a flawed methodology that misrepresents the level of appraisal in Travis County."

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