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For the first time, Travis County voters will elect board members to oversee property appraisals

The front of a building that has letters on it, which spell, "Travis Central Appraisal District."
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Travis County voters will pick three members to serve on the board of the Travis Central Appraisal District this election.

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A teeny cog in the machine of property tax bills is demanding your vote in the May 4 election.

When Texas voters passed a slew of constitutional amendments in November, they created elected positions within county central appraisal districts. (Don't worry, we'll explain what these are.) Residents will now elect three members of the appraisal district's board of directors, while the others will still be appointed by local jurisdictions. The tax assessor, who is also elected, will continue to serve on the board.

It’s an election that has attracted little attention, in part because appraisals and property taxes can be complicated.

What is a central appraisal district?

The job of appraisal districts is to calculate the market value of properties each year. This number establishes the value a property owner will be taxed on by various entities that fund services with taxes, including cities, counties and public school districts.

Texas lawmakers created the system of county central appraisal districts in 1979. The intent was to separate the job of calculating property values from the job of collecting taxes to avoid the perception that officials were valuing properties higher to inflate tax bills. (To be clear, higher appraisals do not mean higher property tax bills.)

So, while appraisal districts do not issue property tax bills, they set appraisals from which property tax bills are derived. Now, voters across the state will elect several people to their local appraisal district board of directors. Here in Austin, that includes the Travis Central Appraisal District.

How are the powers of appraisal district board members changing?

In Travis County, an appraisal district board of directors historically has had 10 members. Nine of these members were appointed by various taxing jurisdictions, including cities and public school districts, while the 10th member was the head of the local tax office, an elected position.

With this new constitutional amendment, the total number of board members will drop to nine and three of the members will now be elected. They will retain the power to hire and fire the chief appraiser, who oversees the appraisal process, and now have the ability to handpick others involved in finalizing appraisals.

Instead of a local judge, the board of directors will select members of the appraisal review board. These are the people who consider protests from property owners when they believe their home is overvalued – or, in rare cases, undervalued. Members of the appraisal review board can review a property owner’s case and decide whether the value of their home should be lowered. (They cannot, per state law, raise the value of someone’s property.)

One additional change has to do with the voting power of these new elected board members. At least two of the elected members must agree on a member's appointment to the review board.

Why are we voting on these positions?

State lawmakers last year passed a sweeping property tax bill, known as Senate Bill 2. Nestled in that bill was a measure to change some of the positions within appraisal districts from appointed to elected positions. The change required amending the state constitution, so voters had to approve it; they did so in November.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, authored the bill that includes this new provision. He said having members of the board of directors elected rather than appointed by taxing entities ensures members are accountable to residents.

“You’re getting transparency, you’re getting citizen input and you’re getting people [whose] primary responsibility [is] to look for people that will listen to taxpayers,” he said.

But others say central appraisal districts were created 50 years ago to keep these bodies independent of politics and party. While the election is nonpartisan, former chief appraiser of the Travis Central Appraisal District Marya Crigler says she worries candidates could make campaign promises to lower appraisals, which people often confuse as meaning lower property tax bills.

The district is beholden to accurate values and not the wishes of taxpayers, Crigler said.

“That would be injecting their political position and trying to use that influence to affect appraisals when that’s not what we’re constitutionally mandated to do," she said.

Who is running?

Seven candidates are running for three spots on the TCAD board of directors. They include former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman; current chair of the local Republican Party, Matt Mackowiak; and several people who have served on the board before, including Dick Lavine and Jett Hanna.

Place 1

Don Zimmerman

Jett Hanna

Place 2

Shenghao “Daniel” Wang

Jonathan Patschke

Matt Mackowiak

Place 3

Bill May

Dick Lavine

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the expanded powers of the board of directors and Mackowiak's current position as chair of the local Republican Party.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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