News on the Harris County Appraisal District
HISD property dispute
Early last month, I wrote about a spat that had the state comptroller’s office on one side and the Houston Independent School District and the owners of some big office towers on the other.
Comptroller Susan Combs’ staff is responsible for ensuring that Texas counties fairly evaluate real estate for tax purposes. The reason is that the state, with contributions from rich districts, sends equalization funds to poor districts.
For the third consecutive year, Combs’ staff found that the Harris County Appraisal District had grossly undervalued commercial property. This would trigger a penalty of about $4 million for HISD. But a hearings examiner who works for the comptroller’s office, after listening to arguments from all sides and studying financial evidence, ruled for HISD and the office building owners.
The question was whether Combs would overrule her own hearing examiner, which would likely result in a lawsuit by HISD.
Possibly understanding that the publicity of such a trial and a possible loss could be a political liability, Combs entered into an agreement with HISD to accept the examiner’s findings.
With one caveat: Normally, being in compliance would mean that the school district wouldn’t have to worry for three more years. But the agreement specifies that if the appraisal district is found to undervalue properties in the school district next year, the penalties can be levied.