Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 29, 2014

Clearing up decision to audit property

Jacksonville Daily Progress

CHEROKEE COUNTY — It’s rarely advised to engage in a ‘letter to the editor’ debate.  However, in view of our current activities and the recently posted letter to the editor in a local newspaper regarding such, I am writing this response to set the record straight.

My response strictly applies to Cherokee County.  My views on this matter are my own and are relevant to the thirty some odd years of District operation here in Cherokee.  

The push by my office to audit ag/timber properties is a decision that I made and not a result of any outside force.  Having said that, I have been made aware that some members of my staff told customers that I was not the cause of this, but the state was to blame.  I apologize for this disinformation and I have apologized to the director of the Property Tax Assistance Division at the State Comptroller’s office.  I thought I was clear with my staff regarding the reasons for the audit.  Evidently I was not clear enough but assure you I have been now.

The essence of state law concerning what should qualify has not changed since 1981.  That essence says that a property should be devoted principally to production.  It then allows for standards to be set at the local level with regard to “intensity”.  “Intensity” recognizes that it takes more acreage per cow in West Texas than in our area for example.

Principal devotion to production means that you are not entitled to a tax break just because you live in a rural area and have excess land.  Let’s be candid… ag/timber valuations are tax breaks.  They allow lower taxes for the purpose of subsidizing and fostering land in production.  Because of the lenient nature of this District for over 30 years, the ag/timber valuation has been seen as a means to lower a tax bill.  That was never the intention of the law.  We have no desire to tell owners what they should do with their property.  But if they want to receive the benefits of this program, they must qualify under the law.

The truth of the matter is that I should have started this audit over ten years ago.  But it is also true that I have been trying to get this audit started for several years now.  Nevertheless, we are finally focusing our efforts beginning with 2014.

We have started with parcels receiving ag/timber less than 11 acres.  The 11 acres is based upon the total size of all adjoining parcels owned by a person.  

We stopped there because of the number of properties that fell in that size range and the fact that we have limited resources.  Next year, we will audit parcels between 11 and 20 or 30 acres and work our way up from there as resources allow.

I hope this letter at the very least clearly illustrates where the blame should reside and the reasons behind the effort.

Lee Flowers

Cherokee CAD