May 23rd, 2020
By now most everyone has received their appraisal notice from the Ellis Appraisal District. And I’m sure most of you, including me, felt your jaw drop when you saw your 2020 appraisal. It is important to understand what the number means in relation to your property taxes, and what can be done about it.
Ellis County is growing fast with home prices rising just like every area of North Texas. In the past five years, the average home price in Ellis County has grown 50%. This strong demand is a result of people wanting to live here for our excellent schools and vibrant cities. The appraisal district is tasked with measuring the value of our property. They don’t get it right 100% of the time, which is why we have procedures to challenge their result, and an independent Appraisal Review Board to handle disagreements. I passed several laws this past legislative session strengthening your right to protest fairly, and in-person.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that the value from the appraiser is not your tax liability. The amount of property tax you pay is a function of both the appraised value of your home and the tax rate set by local taxing units. Each taxing unit governing the location of your property (county, city, school district, etc.) takes the base value from the appraiser, and then they choose a tax rate that generates the revenue to pay for their adopted budget. They then vote on this rate in a public hearing each fall. The taxing unit is directly deciding how much your taxes will be. If they choose zero, it will be zero. If they choose higher, it will be higher.
Although many laws have been passed recently to improve the property tax system, it remains extremely complex. This complexity has allowed some taxing units to hide behind rising property appraisals and increase their tax revenues at a rate faster than inflation and population growth. Even if local tax rates stay the same year after year, our tax burdens increase due to property taxes “riding the wave” of rising values. The short rule is, when property appraisal values go up, tax rates should come down. If your appraisal is surging, your tax rate should be plummeting. If your appraisal is ticking up, your tax rate should be ticking down. Due to phenomenal growth in Ellis County, property values are surging. This trend will continue and demographers project more and more new neighbors calling Ellis County home in the coming years.
Remember that taxing units such as cities and counties are responsible for very important parts of our community lives, such as public safety and infrastructure. And costs in these areas are absolutely increasing. Local governments face strong demands for infrastructure and services, and it is incumbent upon citizens to engage in this debate to achieve the right balance between the amount of taxes you pay versus the amount of services local governments provide.
In a year when so many have lost their jobs and income, we don’t have as much in our pockets as we had last year. Some projects may have to be put off or canceled in order to lower our tax burden. As a former councilman and mayor, I understand this challenge all too well. However, we expect that the taxing units will come through, and to borrow from Governor Abbott, “I strongly encourage local governments to adopt property tax rates that will not result in an increase in the tax burden. This power is wholly within their control.”
Ellis County’s rapid rise in home values is a textbook case of why we need more property tax reform. In 2019, the State Legislature passed a new law requiring that notice be sent to every property owner outlining the proposed tax rate from each taxing unit, the change in dollars over last year, as well as the date and time of the public hearing to vote on the new rate. Also, there will now be an online method for public comments, instead of having to testify in person whether or not you agree with your proposed tax bill.
You have the first part of the equation in your hands, the tax base that you will be taxed on. This fall, I encourage every one of you to take the tools sent by the legislature, and communicate with your elected officials at each of the taxing units that affects you. I encourage you to participate in the civic process of deciding how much of your money to spend, and what to spend it on. Your officials want to hear from you, and this is a necessary component of an active and engaged citizenry.
ABOUT JOHN WRAY
State Representative John Wray is serving his third term representing House District 10, including Ellis County. He serves as Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Public Health, as well as the Calendars and Ways and Means Committees. A former councilman and mayor of Waxahachie, Wray currently practices Estate Planning and Probate Law in Ellis County.
Representative Wray is available for comments. Contact Benjamin Williams at Benjamin.firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-463-0516
2001 Bates Drive, Suite 120