The Travis County Appraisal District's decision to not issue new property value appraisals this year could have long-term consequences for schools and other tax-funded services.
The decision was partly the result of a legal dispute with the Austin Board of Realtors, which owns the sales data TCAD used to statistically model appraisal values. The board said TCAD had no right to use its data and sent a cease-and-desist letter.
Without that information, "we’re just lacking a sufficient amount of market data in order to be able to do that for residential properties this year," Marya Crigler, the chief appraiser for TCAD, said.
TCAD had access to the sales data for the past eight years. The Austin Board of Realtors said in a statement that appraisals can still be done without it.
“The cease and desist order should have no impact on TCAD's ability to reappraise homes. It did so for many years without use of ACTRIS proprietary data,” the statement said.
State law requires all county appraisal districts to value properties within 5% of their market value. Crigler said TCAD no longer has a reliable source for home values.
“We have had difficulties in the past year getting sufficient market data to create [an] adequate appraisal model to appraise properties for 2020,” she said.
The lack of new appraisals will have an impact later this year when taxing entities in Travis County approve new tax rates. Travis County residents pay property taxes to the county, school districts, cities, TCAD, Central Health and Austin Community College.
In recent years, Travis County and the City of Austin have altered the tax rates in relation to property values to ease the burden on homeowners.
“As appraised values go up, the tax rate goes down,” Crigler said. “If appraised values go down, the tax rate should come up.”
But school districts – like Austin, Eanes and Del Valle – don’t set their tax rates the same way, mainly because of a lack of other revenue.
Cities, the county and those other taxing entities use property taxes to fund some of their operations. Public schools, however, rely on property taxes for most of their funding.
Nicole Conley, chief of business and operations for AISD, told KUT in a statement that the district is “looking at the methodology to determine what effect this decision may have on our operating and debt budgets.”
She said AISD understands the need for property tax relief and the effect “Robin Hood” recapture laws are having on local taxpayers.
“Though we understand why the Austin Board of Realtors has taken such measures, we also realize this could reduce revenue growth for local school districts," her statement said. "It could also potentially shift more funding burden to the state, and create more instability in public education funding."
Also uncertain is the effect the TCAD decision will have on property appraisal protests. While everyone has the right to protest, the 2020 appraised value will be unchanged from last year’s assessment and could curb the number of grievances.