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Andra Lim
By Andra Lim June 19, 2015

Adler fulfills promise to stoke fair appraisals of all properties

As part of his affordability campaign agenda, Austin Mayor Steve Adler last year aligned with other politicians and activists calling for reform of the state's property tax system.

Suggesting that the system unfairly benefits commercial properties, meaning "at least some if not many" are appraised below the full market value, Adler said he'd even be prepared to pursue legal recourse.

Adler pointed out the stakes could be high: If commercial properties are undervalued, Austin is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue that could go toward a homestead exemption, affordable housing, parks or other city priorities.

The City Council in May 2015 unanimously passed a resolution directing Austin's city manager to file a petition that seeks to raise commercial appraisals in Travis County. In doing so, the council was following through on a vote of the prior council, which had considered a similar resolution in 2014 before deciding instead to gather evidence that could back up a challenge asserting that commercial properties were being undervalued by the Travis Central Appraisal District, which by state law is supposed to appraise all property in Travis County at the full market value.

That council-commissioned research, completed this year, found commercial properties and land in the city were appraised significantly under the market level. Pointing to the study, council members said the appraisal challenge--which might be carried out through a lawsuit--could make the property tax system fairer for homeowners.

Council Member Kathie Tovo was the lead sponsor of the adopted resolution; the other sponsors were Council Members Ann Kitchen, Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair.

Before the council action, Adler's office organized a roundtable-style discussion with other taxing entities--Travis County, the Austin school district, Austin Community College, Central Health and the cities of Round Rock, Cedar Park and Leander. At that gathering, Adler suggested attorneys from the taxing entities gather to discuss the various legal paths the city's petition could take.

Subsequently, lawyers for the Austin school district came up with a way for the city to continue its challenge of commercial appraisals without disrupting tax entities' ability to collect property tax revenue, said Deborah Cartwright, a lawyer for the appraisal district. The appraisal district, which hasn't aired a clear position for or against the city's appraisal challenge, has criticized the city study finding commercial property and land under-appraised, but Cartwright said the city has been "cordial" and willing to work with the district.

The city's petition will first be heard by the Travis Appraisal Review Board, which also considers appraisal protests from individual homeowner and business. If the board rejects the petition, the city can appeal the decision in state district court--which Adler told the Statesman he'd favor doing.

We rate this an Adler Promise KEPT.

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