Hurricane Harvey complicates appraisal process
Dec. 31, 2017 at 8:59 p.m.
Updated Jan. 2, 2018 at 1 a.m.
Property owners affected by Hurricane Harvey must act now to get their property assessed at the right level.
The number the appraisal districts settle on will be used by entities such as cities, counties, school districts and municipal utility districts to determine the tax rates at which they can fund their operations.
These entities are expecting to tighten their belts because Harvey demolished some properties they'd normally collect taxes on.
Dec. 15, the Victoria Central Tax Appraisal District sent letters to property owners asking about Harvey damage that will not be repaired as of Jan. 1.
Specifically, the appraisal district asked for date-stamped photos of the damage with one photo being the outside of the property for verification purposes.
The district is imposing a 15-photo limit and requires them to be sent to email@example.com with the property owner's name and address as well as a description of each photo by Feb. 1.
Nancy Garner, the president of Woolson Real Estate in Victoria, received several of the letters because she manages seven multifamily properties.
She and an appraiser scheduled a time for him to walk her properties this week.
She thought that would be better than sending the district the 10,000 photos she and her staff have taken for insurance claims.
Garner said getting the correct adjustment for 2018 will be critical in the recovery process. So far, she's had to terminate the leases of more than 400 people and is working hard to find them other housing.
"I haven't done the process yet, so I don't know how satisfied or dissatisfied I will be, but I will say that I've always found the appraisal district to be pretty reasonable," Garner said.
Other appraisal districts are not being as strict by asking for photo proof of damage, but they have no less work cut out for them.
In Refugio County, the tax appraisal district normally splits the county into three sections and appraises one section every year.
This year, because of Harvey's destruction, all property in the county must be appraised.
"It's a lot of work to do, and it's going to increase the costs for this year (by $64,000). However, since the budgets for the taxing entities have already been set for 2018, we have worked it out to put those costs onto 2019 and 2020," said Connie Raymond, chief appraiser in Refugio County.
And unlike Refugio County, Calhoun County has a little bit of a cushion when it comes to damage dropping its value.
That's because Formosa Plastics and Dow Chemical both have planned expansions, said Jesse Hubbell, the chief appraiser there.
"I hate to try to look into the crystal ball at that because you never know until you get through," he said.
The appraisal districts expect to send out notices showing the properties' value in the spring. Then, the owners have 30 days to contest the values.
Back in Victoria, Lee Caballero, the general manager and part owner of Veracruz, a Mexican restaurant on North Navarro Street, said he likely won't contest his property being valued higher. He expects the value to go up after replacing its damaged roof and remodeling a patio to make it more durable.
"The only thing I can do is I have to go up on my prices," Caballero said. "That's the only thing I can do. It's just so hard for me to go up and argue with them."
He said his prices wouldn't go up "astronomically," only 5 to 10 percent, should his property's value increase.
Despite a loss because of Harvey, both Caballero and others are optimistic.
For example, Caballero said business increased when his restaurant reopened in November.
And Port Lavaca Mayor Jack Whitlow thinks community development block grants will partly cover the repairs to the coastal city's marinas, fishing piers and community center.
Whitlow said he doesn't know whether the city of Port Lavaca will need to raise taxes.
"But we will do everything we can not to," he said.