In preparation for my first ever formal Fort Bend tax protest hearing, I read with interest both the Letter to the Editor published on May 23 and the Fort Bend CAD liaison officer’s June 14 response. The May 23 letter described an ARB panel that exhibited little interest in anything the taxpayer had to say, merely serving as a rubber stamp for the appraiser’s position no matter how untenable that position might be. The liaison’s response implicitly called into question any inherent bias on the part of the ARB, asserting that only a small fraction of property owners are dissatisfied with the process and that dissatisfied owners have multiple outlets for voicing their complaints which the ARB Board promptly evaluates in order to assess whether the process can be made ever more copacetic.
At my ARB hearing, every sentence of the May 23 letter proved to be exactly on point. From barely allowing my wife or me to speak, to not reading anything that we had prepared, to rubber stamping the appraiser’s overly aggressive positions, the ARB panel appeared to be more than a little “cozy” with the appraiser’s office. As the appraiser argued that the value of our house was determinable, not based on the amount we had recently paid for it, but rather on the amount at someone else paid for a different house back in 2010, we wondered why the ARB did not laugh him out of the room. When the appraiser started to stumble in answering a question I had asked, potentially getting himself into trouble, the ARB cut him off and answered on his behalf.
Following the hearing, I sought to file a complaint. Surely, the state comptroller, which publishes the Appraisal Review Board Manual, would want to know if an ARB panel ran afoul of such rules, right? Wrong, according to its website, “[b]y state law …neither PTAD nor the Comptroller’s office have [SIC] any direct jurisdiction over county appraisal districts or appraisal review boards…complaints over which the Comptroller has authority will be reviewed and investigated in the order they are received. All other complaints will be dismissed.”
OK well, at least the Fort Bend ARB Board investigates complaints of ARB panels reaching illogical conclusions, right? Wait, “the Board cannot, by law, be involved in setting appraisal values. That is the job of the Fort Bend CAD staff.” Liaison’s June 14 letter. Well, at least the liaison will promptly return my voicemail, right? Still waiting after two weeks.
As it turns out, the state comptroller’s website provides that, “Any complaints about the ARB or its members should be directed to the ARB itself or to the appraisal district board of directors.” So unless I am missing something, because the ARB Board does not get involved with setting appraisal values, the only avenue for complaining (as opposed to legally appealing) is to complain to the ARB panel itself. To me, that sounds like a case of the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coops only the fox thinks the chicken coops has increased 10% in a declining market.
My best option seems to be writing this paper. However, that might actually help the ARB even more. Sure, they might be a little embarrassed, but by warning readers that the protest hearing is “a total waste of time” (to use the title of the May 23 article), does it not discourage property owners from filing future protests?
These are just my opinions and experiences and I welcome any corrections to my research.
Name withheld by request