Cover Story: HCAD Allegedly Running an "Enron Style" Scheme by Shifting the Property Tax Burden from the Rich to the Poor

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In 2012, the Harris County Appraisal District valued Robert Mandala's modest Spring home at $59,500. The property-tax agent who represented Mandala said HCAD, while establishing a value, purposely ignored the lower priced homes in the neighborhood and grabbed sales numbers from the most expensive properties.

Mandala, a Houston area construction worker, lost his appeal to HCAD's appraisal review board. Now he's stuck with paying more property taxes.

A months-long examination by Houston Press finds that while HCAD fought Mandala and other owners of moderate housing for every single assessment penny, the appraisal district routinely handed tax breaks worth several million dollars to big corporations.

Valero, ExxonMobil, Brookfield Properties and Hines Interest -- who own some of Houston's most recognizable office buildings and priciest refineries, such as the Williams Tower, One Allen Center and the largest refinery chemical complex in the country in Baytown -- successfully battled HCAD and knocked down their initial appraised values by millions.

As a result, billions of dollars aren't on the tax base for Houston Independent School District, the City of Houston and Harris County.

Critics say that HCAD has knowingly placed the tax burden on the not-so-rich, a claim HCAD's chief appraiser Jim Robinson and assistant chief appraiser Guy Griscom say just isn't true.

Others, including HCAD, say that the Texas Legislature didn't help appraisal districts' ability to hold the true market value of high-end commercial property when an equity provision was added to the Texas state tax code.

Meanwhile, folks like Texas Organizing Project's Durrel Douglas are comparing HCAD to the E-word. Says Douglas, "This is Enron style book-keeping so taxpayers and investors beware!"

Read about it in this week's cover story.

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