Cherokee County Appraisal District, Texas

RUSK – Annual property study results recently released by the State Comptroller’s Office do not bode well for some Cherokee County taxpayers, said Cherokee County Chief Appraiser Lee Flowers.

According to information issued by the state Comptroller’s Property Tax Assistance Division, Jacksonville and Rusk schools could be penalized severely in state funding if a pending appeal by the appraisal district is not successful, Flowers said in a Feb. 12 release issued by his office.

“We first received notification on Jan. 31,” with amended updates arriving at his office later because “they've had to reissue numbers a couple of times,” Flowers said.

The state's study indicates the local appraisal district is below market value on both residential and commercial real estate valuations in the two school districts. The effect of an unsuccessful appeal could penalize JISD a million dollars and RISD $700,000 in overall state funding, according to the CCAD release.

Flowers said he doesn't agree with the state's overall assessment of commercial values, based on the market information available to his office.

“They (state findings) indicate we are 15 percent low on commercial real estate in JISD and 35 percent low on RISD commercial real estate. These types of property in our county are difficult for anyone to appraise,” he explained. “However, if the state has reliable data not previously available to us, we will analyze their information and move forward accordingly.”

Data from property value studies – which “looks at our values and our at-market values” – and something called a “MAP audit” (methods and assistance program audit) alternate each year, he said.

“The most recent MAP audit was in 2018, while the value study was in 2019,” he said, explaining that a grace period is what gaps the two.

“It is apparent that these schools might have received a grace period if not for a failure in the appraisal district’s most recent state procedures audit,” the CCAD release stated. “This grace period would have held the schools harmless in state funding for one year.”

For a school to qualify for the grace period, the state requires that the local appraisal district must score a “pass” on four key questions.

In 2018, the appraisal district missed one of those key questions, the release stated.

“That question contained 15 subparts. Of those subparts, Cherokee CAD passed all but one. In order for that key question to be considered a 'pass,' all 15 subparts must have been a 'yes.' Overall, the appraisal district successfully passed 77 out of 80 questions in the audit,” it added.

“The subpart preventing grace relates to the valuation of low-income housing. I made a decision to focus our resources on other critical matters relating to 2019 values, and take up the question of low-income housing data in 2020,” Flowers said, noting that the low-income housing question was not in previous audits.

He and his staff had from December to April to correct the deficiency.

“We would have appreciated either an earlier notice of the question’s inclusion or more time to assemble the data in order to properly implement the correction,” he said.

Currently, Flowers is appealing the value study, which has a March 23 deadline.

“Originally, it was March 11. The extra time can't hurt us, but that also delays any kind of resolution. If we think we have enough to file and feel comfortable in doing so, we'll file sooner,” rather than wait, he said.

Meanwhile, his office is focused on looking at all the properties considered by the state in their findings, and “we've submitted a request to see their work files,” Flowers said.

If the appeal is successful, the potential for loss to the schools could either be eliminated or substantially reduced, he said.

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