Election

Harris County Voters Are Set To Select Who Serves On Appraisal District Board

Proposition 4 is the constitutional amendment to Senator Paul Bettencourt's property tax-cut package
Proposition 4 is the constitutional amendment to Senator Paul Bettencourt's property tax-cut package Screenshot
For the second time within the past two months, Harris County voters are casting their ballots to determine who will serve in newly elected positions on the Harris County Central Appraisal District’s board of directors.

By approving Proposition 4 — a constitutional amendment that accompanied the Texas Legislature’s property tax-cut package — Texas voters living in counties with more than 75,000 residents can now elect three members to their local appraisal district’s board.

Harris County voters elected Kathy Blueford-Daniels to one of three available positions during the May 4 election. Blueford-Daniels, who had previously served as an appointed board member, collected 50.4 percent of the vote and will hold Place 1.

Neither Kyle Scott and Melissa Noriega nor Ericka McCrutcheon and Pelumi Adeleke could collect a majority of the vote in their respective races for Place 2 and Place 3, forcing both positions to go to a runoff on Saturday, June 15.

The elected members will not be involved in the property valuation or appeal process. However, they will be tasked with hiring and firing chief appraisers. Roland Altinger has held the position of chief appraiser at the Harris County Appraisal District since 2016.

“They really have no authority other than picking the chief appraiser,” Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor, said. “They presumably, in the course of making that choice, will query him or her about the criteria and basis for appraising property, but much of that is already statutorily written.”

“The idea that they can bring out some other criteria that is not elaborated in state statute is not allowable,” Stein noted.  “So, where is the discretion here for an elected official to represent the public?

Those voted into serving on the board will assist in setting the agency’s budget, and two of the three will be able to veto appointments of individuals involved in the property valuation appeal process. However, Stein said their roles maintain limited authority overall.

“One wonders what the purpose of having this elective office is. It costs us hundreds of thousands, if not a million dollars in Harris County, to conduct the election,” he added. “For what, 35,000 people out of 2.6 million? It doesn't make a lot of sense. This is not what representative government is about.”

In a written statement to the Houston Press, Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) wrote:

“They have more ‘authority’ than other board members in appointing appraisal review board members, and their vote is just as good as any other board member on budget votes, so this is real citizen input!”

About two percent of the roughly 2.6 million registered voters turned out during the May 4 Election. Stein anticipates that Saturday’s runoff could break the record for lower voter turnout in recent years.

According to the Harris County Clerk’s Office Elections Department, 29,091 residents opted to vote during the early voting period. Stein said he could not see more than 10,000 voters heading to polls on Election Day.

He added that the type of voter participating in this runoff is likely in their 70s, white, overwhelmingly partisan — whether Democrat or Republican — and a homeowner who has lived in their house for decades.

“You’re dealing with an extremely unrepresentative population of voters,” Stein said.

These positions are not partisan. However, local political groups have endorsed candidates to increase voter turnout. The Harris County Democratic Party chose to back Blueford-Daniels, Noriega and Adeleke.

The Harris County Republican Party selected Scott and McCrutcheon. Noriega and Adeleke received an additional endorsement from the left-leaning Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation. Scott and McCrutcheon also garnered support from the right-leaning C-Club.

Scott was one of the 21 GOP candidates who filed election contests to challenge the results of his race for Harris County Treasurer in November 2022. His legal challenge was unsuccessful.

He is vying for Place 2 against Noriega, who has held office twice as a former Houston City Council member and former state representative, taking over temporarily for her husband, former state rep. Rick Noriega, while he served in the military.

Scott and Noriega have said they would prioritize increasing the district’s budget for funding education. Something Democratic voters are worried about is on the line if GOP-backed candidates are elected into these positions.

In a separate interview with the Press, Bettencourt took issue with a political push card sent out by the Harris County Democratic Party and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation that was full of what he referred to as “political hyperbole.”

The card read, “Republican Control of HCAD would defund our public schools, expand tax breaks for the wealthy, increase taxes for working families and cut county services.”

“Those are over four strikeouts,” Bettencourt said. “That would bust any political fact meter to zero.”

Noriega also wants to focus on educating low-income residents who may qualify for additional exemptions but are unaware that they do. Adeleke, a certified public accountant and business owner, has similar priorities to Noriega’s.

Adeleke has expressed wanting to increase the accessibility of the appraisal process, saying that she sometimes finds it difficult to understand despite her financial background.

Scott and McCrutcheon — a business owner and pastor — said they would conduct audits on properties receiving tax exemptions to ensure they all meet the eligibility requirements.

Voters' last opportunity to cast their ballots will be on Election Day at any of Harris County’s Election Day vote centers. To find the nearest location, visit HarrisVotes.com.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.