Cover Story: Private Companies Score Huge Property-Tax Breaks, Homeowners Don't
The old AstroWorld site, the Dallas Country Club, Valero refineries in the San Antonio and Port Arthur areas, and Western Refinery out in El Paso are a handful of high-end properties that have ditched millions of dollars in property taxes to the detriment of school districts, firefighters and emergency medical services.
There are so many more.
In this week's cover story, Houston Press takes a statewide look at the broken mass appraisal systems in many of Texas' major metropolitan areas, including Harris, Bexar, Travis, and Dallas counties.
Many of the issues that are hurting schools and local government bodies, which were uncovered by the Press in April 2013, are still around. Using a method that critics of the Harris County Appraisal District call the next Enron, HCAD bows down to the financial pressures of lawsuits from big-money property owners and shifts the tax burden to low-income Harris County homeowners.
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The imbalance, critics say, is due to the uniform and equal provision, added to the state tax code by the Texas Legislature in 1997. Because of the statute's vague language, the lawyers that represent powerful commercial property owners have found a way to curry favor in lawsuits that gives class A commercial and industrial property owners automatic wins in court -- and millions off of their assessed values.
"It's not a tax policy," says Bexar County Appraisal District chief appraiser Michael Amezquita, who, like many of his fellow chief appraisers, are drowning in lawsuits from oil and energy firms, luxury hotels, and mega-valuable real-estate companies. "This is nothing more than a scam."
The onus for change, says chief appraiser and property-tax experts, is on the lawmakers in Austin, who will meet during the 84th session of the Texas Legislature from January 13 through June 1, 2015.
What are the chances that the uniform and equal law will be revisited or re-sculpted? Slim, says District 13 Senator Rodney Ellis. "[The Texas Legislature] is not at all [aware]," he says. "The legislature will tend to put on blinders unless asked about it."
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