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San Antonians Struggle With Higher Appraisals, Mayoral Candidates Scramble For Solutions

Clockwise from top left: mayoral candidates Tommy Adkisson; Ivy Taylor; Leticia Van de Putte; Mike Villarreal

Sky rocketing property appraisals have stunned San Antonio homeowners and the candidates for mayor are trying to to turn the issue to an advantage.

When Rev. Otis Mitchell recently received his property appraisal bill, he says his heart almost stopped.

“As soon as I got it, I was like ‘Whoa!’ It was a shock.”

The Bexar County Appraisal District decided Mitchell’s home is now worth a lot more than it was a year ago, and he believes he will have to pay $1,300 more in property taxes.

Mitchell said he doesn’t believe homes in his neighborhood have become that much more valuable, so he doesn’t understand the higher appraisal notice.

“It certainly shouldn’t go up if the property values have gone down.”

In Bexar County, residential home values increased an average of 11 percent this year.

Mike Villarreal was the first mayoral candidate to jump on that information by touting legislation he sponsored in 2013 as a state representative. He said HB 585 helps homeowners challenge higher appraisals.

Villarreal produced a video to explain the steps and is holding a “how-to” clinic on the subject.

“I’m holding my fifth annual workshop on how to protest your property taxes. The bill I passed is all about leveling the playing field,” said Villarreal.

Opponent Leticia Van de Putte cried foul. “I guess Mike feels guilty because he keeps having these clinics to tell people how to do these appeals,” said Van de Putte.

Van de Putte said a corporate tax attorney helped write Villarreal’s legislation. She claims it makes it easier for big businesses to protest their property taxes but requires homeowners to provide a lot of difficult-to-obtain evidence.

“The unintended consequence is that it shifts the tax burden to homeowners and small business owners,” said Van de Putte.

Villarreal said that’s not true. 

While Villarreal and Van de Putte trade blows over the effect of the legislation, the conversation over what the next mayor could do to ease the pain is less specific.

Villarreal said he’d make sure his legislation is enforced: “I will make sure our chief appraiser is following state laws. Laws that I have passed to make sure the average homeowner has a fair hearing and is able to make their case and win.”

Van de Putte said she would look at the city’s tax rate — which is about 20 percent of San Antonio’s total property tax rate. If higher appraisals are generating a lot more city revenue, she would consider lowering the city tax rate.

“I think we really have to look, as the county has done, at the effective rate, and [see] if it’s too high adjust appropriately,” said Van de Putte.

Current Mayor Ivy Taylor, running to keep the job, said she doesn’t have the answer yet, but she’s met with the county’s chief appraiser. Appraisals on apartment property have gone up an average 30 percent and she’s most concerned about renters.

“The folks that are most at risk immediately are low income renters. Because if you own a property you are renting and your taxes go up, you may pass that on to a renter and it may have a big impact on them immediately,” said Taylor.

Former county commissioner and candidate Tommy Adkisson came to the defense of Bexar County Chief Appraiser Michael Amezquita saying he had to increase appraisal values to reflect increasing home prices, because that’s what a law passed by the legislature requires.

“This is a legislative problem. This is not a Michael Amezquita problem. You can beat up on him all you want but he’s not the fall guy. The legislature is the fall guy,” said Adkisson.

Adkisson said the answer is in Austin, and that’s where the next mayor needs to take a stand.

If, as expected, there’s a runoff race for mayor, candidates in that race will no doubt fine-tune their plans for tackling property taxes, even as homeowners protest their appraisals with the county.

Shelley Kofler is Texas Public Radio’s news director. She joined the San Antonio station in December 2014 and leads a growing staff that produces two weekly programs; a daily talk show, news features, reports and online content. Prior to TPR, Shelley served as the managing editor and news director at KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.