A seven-percent salary increase for Medina County Appraisal District employees to compensate for record inflation became a last minute addition to the preliminary 2022-23 budget approved by the district’s board of directors June 14.
Before the additional salary increase, the preliminary budget stood at $1.553 million, an increase of nearly $100,000 more than the previous year. That budget included a five percent salary hike and funds for additional computer services.
“We have to look at all the dollars but I think that’s just an area where we have to make that adjustment,” MCAD board chairman Tim Hardt said. “I think a five percent increase doesn’t even keep up with the cost of living.”
State law required action on a preliminary budget by June 15, chief appraiser Johnette Dixon told the board.
The board also discussed an increase in the vehicle allowance paid to the district’s eight appraisers who use their own vehicles.
“Only a handful of appraisal districts actually pay mileage,” Dixon said. “The majority pay appraisers either a vehicle allowance or own their own vehicles for employees to use.”
Drawing a comparison with other districts is difficult due to the varying sizes and number of appraisers employed. Another factor is the wear and tear on private vehicles traveling gravel roads as opposed to paved highways.
Dixon proposed increasing the allowance from $900 a month to $1,000.
“That’s in line with what other counties are doing,” she said.
In other business, Dixon reviewed the procedures involved in appraisal review board protests. The ARB is a group of citizens appointed by the district court authorized to resolve disputes between taxpayers and the appraisal district.
“As of today we have had 4,247 protests,” Dixon said. “We sent out 32,000 notices including properties represented by agents, tax representatives and individuals who have protested their appraisals.”
An attempt is made by the district to resolve disputes informally before resorting to an ARB protest, she said. However, the district has scheduled four days for ARB protests with 15 minutes reserved for each dispute.
“Within the hearings the taxpayer brings their evidence, what their reason is for the property appraisal to be reduced,” Dixon said. “If they’ve got a new damage report they will bring those and any estimates they’ve got. If they have comparisons indicating a market lower than what we show they will present those.”
Once the ARB issues a final order, the property owner still has recourse either through binding arbitration or filing litigation in the district court. At present, the district has only one case pending in district court, Dixon said.
The state requires that a majority of the appraisal district properties be certified by July 20, she said. The district must issue certified values to the taxing entities by July 25 to facilitate their budget process.
Only about 40 percent of those who file protests ever show up for their hearing, Dixon said.
The board also reviewed the district’s financial report for the year to date. Out of a budget of $1,455 million, the district has so far spent $652,858, Dixon said.
Chairman Hardt updated the directors on the status of the district acquiring the former offices of the 38th Judicial District of Texas district attorney as a new headquarters. The property has been embroiled in litigation between the three counties involved – Medina, Uvalde and Real – and Christina Mitchell Busbee, the district attorney now representing the 38th Judicial District after the state authorized Medina County to form its own district court.
County Judge Chris Schuchart “seems to think it’s going to be turned loose very soon,” Hardt said.
Although the sale contract has been defaulted by the sellers the building is still being offered to the district at the price quoted 18 months ago, Hardt said. By law, the district is prohibited from pledging collateral so funding would have to be sought from local banks in the form of an unsecured loan.
“They know what our budget is,” Hardt said. “They know we are going to pay our bills.”
He urged the district personnel to be ready to move on closing by having the building evaluated considering the cost of any needed repairs or improvements.
By Anton Reicher