When Brad Barnes moved to Somervell County from Arizona two years ago, he experienced financial shock rather than culture shock.
Barnes and his wife, Pam, purchased 8.5 acres of land in The Oaks housing addition about five miles south of Glen Rose on Highway 144. One of their three adult children, a daughter, was already a Somervell County resident.
They eventually were surprised to learn that the property’s assessed value for 2018 increased 16.7 percent from the 2017 assessed value. In addition to their residence, their property includes a barn, a couple of horse stalls and two storage buildings.
“During the closing process, I was shocked at how high the property taxes were compared to the state from which I had relocated,” said Barnes, who said he served as a pilot in the Air Force for 14 years, and is retired from his career as a manager in the aerospace industry. “Also, I was shocked at the increase in taxes from 2016 to 2017.”
Barnes stated that his property’s 2017 valuation increased 9 percent from the 2016 levels.
With the distraction of moving from Arizona and a failure of mail being forwarded, Barnes said he didn’t find out about the 2017 taxes due until after the deadline had passed to appeal the tax assessment to the county’s chief appraiser, Wes Rollen.
Barnes said he came forward to tell his story in order to encourage other residents to fight for fair property appraisals.
“Follow the procedures for protesting and meet the stated deadlines,” Barnes advised.
Rollen emphatically pointed out during a phone interview that his office prints tax information notices in the Glen Rose Reporter, usually around July or so in the summer, which includes details on how to appeal tax assessment challenges. Rollen complained that those paid public notice ads are usually “buried” in the back part of the newspaper and are overlooked by some readers.
Barnes sent a letter to the Somervell County Appraiser’s Office “indicating my objection to the 2017 valuation, which basically ignored the actual purchase of my property.”
Rollen, however, said the tax assessments are based on other sales prices of other properties in the surrounding area. He said the assessments are not based on projections of future property values, but are formulated based on the price per square foot of other similar properties nearby.
“Appraisals are never based on speculation,” Rollen said. “It’s always based on sales. What Mr. Barnes left out was that there were multitudes of sales in his area. We’re trying to treat everybody equally.”
Barnes hired a property tax consultant from San Antonio to assist in his tax challenge and protest.
“We presented our case to a supposedly unbiased Appraisal Review Board (ARB),” Barnes said. “The county appraiser was present at this ARB meeting and indicated to the Board that he had over-inflated the valuation and suggested a lower number 12.3 percent less than his original valuation. That number was still about 11 percent higher than the actual sale price of the property.”
Barnes said it was interesting to note that the ARB “accepted the appraiser’s revised number without much discussion. We had asked for a valuation very close to the actual sale price of the property. It was clear to me that ARB was biased toward the county appraiser.”
To that claim, Rollen replied, “I think that would be an incorrect statement.”
Barnes later replied to the newspaper, “In the 25 minutes we were in there, that’s how I felt. And my tax consultant felt the same way.”
Rollen noted that the ARB consists of local volunteer citizens who hear such property value disputes.
Barnes continued his challenge and it went before an arbitrator, selected by the state comptroller’s office.
“The arbitrator established a 2018 valuation within 3 percent of the 2017 sale price,” Barnes stated, adding that his 2018 property taxes were lowered by more than $1,300.
Barnes said the experience mostly left him frustrated that he ended up having to spend so much time and energy on the effort.