By Anton Riecher
Could a minor name change help make clearer the distinct role of the appraisal district as a governmental entity separate from Medina County? Such a change is under consideration by the district’s board of directors.
Chief Appraiser Johnette Dixon recommended the directors change the Medina County Appraisal District’s name to Medina Central Appraisal District.
“The longer we are in existence the more people think we are part of the county,” Dixon said.
Video coverage of the entire meeting can be found on the Devine News YouTube channel at youtu.be/MqjSg6L1o_w.
In Texas, appraisal districts are responsible for appraising property for tax purposes for the various taxing units such as cities and school districts within the appraisal district’s jurisdiction. An appraisal district is established in each county and has the same boundaries as the county’s boundaries.
The county and the appraisal district remain separate governmental entities. An appraisal district is a political subdivision of the state governed by a board of directors appointed by the governmental taxing entities in its jurisdiction.
Historically, appraisal districts have had a hard time making that distinction clear to the public, Dixon said.
“Our (district) is probably the worst because we are housed right in the same building with the (county) tax office,” she said. “A lot of people think the tax office is the appraisal district and the appraisal district is the tax office.”
Since being formed in 1979 to standardize the administration of local property taxes, many appraisal districts sought to distinguish themselves from the county government by either dropping the word “county” from their names or adopting the word “central” as a substitute for “county,” Dixon said.
“When I first started working here that was what was on the door,” Dixon said. “It said ‘central appraisal office.’”
Board chairperson Tim Hardt said the same proposal was discussed by the board several years ago. However, that discussion never went forward.
He said he had no objection but wanted a legal opinion on the extent that a formal name change might impact district operations.
“If this were a legal corporation we would be changing all our corporate documents, our IRS number and a lot of things involved with the name,” Hardt said.
No formal motion was made on the proposed change in name.
Also concerning the appraisal district’s future, Dixon reported on her discussion with the city staff in Hondo about acquiring property to build a proposed 4,000-square-foot headquarters building for the appraisal district.
“It’s an item we’ve talked about for two years now,” Hardt said.
Dixon said she had been in touch with Hondo City Manager, Scott Albert, about city owned property zoned for governmental use available near the Southwest Texas Junior College. However, four acres is far more property that the appraisal district needs.
The district had hoped to find property along Castro Street, she said. But that area is zoned industrial and is not available.
Hardt said the district is proposing a metal building on a concrete slab with a brick veneer on the front. It would be built to suit what the district needs rather than “buy something that doesn’t fit,” he said.
What is available to rent is either “too big, too small or too expensive,” Hardt said.
“We don’t need a Taj Mahal like a bank building or something,” he said. “The research we did approximately two years ago (showed that) land cost in buying from the city of Hondo would be the least expensive commercial property we could find.”
Construction cost would be in the range of $100 a square foot for a total of about $450,000, Hardt said.
Nearly two years ago the district had entered into an agreement with the county to purchase the former Hondo office used by the 38th Judicial District of Texas district attorney. However, lengthy litigation over the ownership of the property led the district to reconsider and reject the purchase.
Plans call for the county tax collector’s office, presently housed in the county-owned building shared with the appraisal district, to move to one of two bank buildings in Hondo recently purchased by the county. Dixon said one possibility is to wait the two years until the tax collector moves and then acquire the building from the county.
Hardt restated his proposal to build a new center for appraisal district operations.
“The concept has always been it would be nice to control our own destiny, own our own building and not be tenants,” he said.
He asked the district staff to obtain one to three preliminary proposals from contractors on the costs involved in the estimated 4,000 square foot project.
In other action, the board approved a 10-year contract with Eagleview Pictometry, an aerial imaging company specializing in accurate property measurement data. The annual cost of the contract is roughly $75,000, Dixon told the board.
The company conducts an extensive aerial photography flight every other year. Then, using computer software, the appraisal district is able to determine changes affecting property value, Dixon said.
“We are able to use that to flag properties that we don’t have on the tax roll,” she said. “Because (sometimes) we can’t get on the big ranches. There is a program called Change Finder that compares the two flights … and will tag the account to have an inspection done.”
The previous Eagleview Pictometry contract covered only three years. The 10-year contract locks the company into current prices regardless of future inflation, Dixon said.
Another bi-annual contract agreement decided by the board involved the depository bid for a local bank. Despite soliciting bids from eight banks in Castroville, Devine and Hondo only Castroville State Bank sent a complete formal bid for the district’s account, Dixon said.
Hardt, who sits on the board of directors for the bank, said he would not take a position on the bid other than to chair the meeting. However, the board did reject an incomplete bid from another bank that only submitted a copy of their fee schedule.
“Since they didn’t follow the form that you all would expect them to do it’s made it a little more difficult to compare,” Hardt said.
The district currently holds a certificate of deposit for $260,000, a money market account for approximately $80,000 and funds of more than $300,000 to cover its operating budget, Dixon said.
In a financial report to the board, Dixon reported that all 24 taxing entities within Medina County have paid their portion toward the district’s operations.
“Everything is just sort of finishing up for the year,” Dixon said. “The appraisal review board went over which we knew because we had so many hearings this year. It think that’s the only thing that went over. Everything else is still under budget.”
The appraisal district conducted more than 800 appraisal review hearings this year, she said. Of the 4,600 tax appraisal protests scheduled, only about 40 percent actually appeared for the scheduled hearing, she said.
“That seems to be the state norm,” Dixon said.
As for the results for those who followed through Dixon said appraisal review board did not seem to favor either the district or the property owners unfairly.
“Most of them, if they had any evidence to show the board was sympathetic,” Dixon said. “A lot of them had repairs to be made that we didn’t see.”
Those present were Tim Hardy, chairman; Jody Jacobs, vice chairman; Cindy Segovia, member and Clay Bell, member. Absent were Mamie Navarro, secretary, and Melissa Lutz, tax assessor-collector.
The next appraisal board meeting is 6 p.m. Jan. 10 at the district office in Hondo.
By Anton Riecher