Ellis County property owners will be getting their 2008 appraised value notices and Ellis Central Appraisal District wants to make sure the fairness is clear.

Kathy Rodrigue is a registered professional appraiser, registered Texas assessor collector and Ellis Central Appraisal District’s chief appraiser. She said she wants property owners to be able to see the amounts and know the ways the appraisals are figured.

“We’re trying to get the word out because there is a really negative opinion of the appraisal district,” Rodrigue said. “We’re not trying to hide anything; we’re trying to get everything right so nobody pays more than their fair share.”

Rodrigue said the property  tax system is based on properties being appraised at market value, fairly and equitably, and the values change with supply and demand reflected in real estate transactions. She notes that some property owners will see an increase and some will see a decrease and that is also based on what is happening in that area.

“If someone looks at total value of the property and in light of what they would expect to get as of Jan. 1 if they sold it on the market, then they’d have a better idea on whether the amount of appraisal is accurate,” Rodrigue said.

According to Rodrigue, the responsibility for values and rates were very distinctly separated when appraisal districts were created by the legislature in 1979. When this happened the law required all properties be appraised at 100 percent of their market value. There is transparency in the delivery of an appraisal notice directly to the property owner, who then has a right to discuss their value with the appraisal district and be heard before their peers (Appraisal Review Board) if they still have concerns.

Rodrigue said the whole Texas state and local government stands on property and sales taxes. Part of what makes Texas unique is the property tax structure.

“Visualize a milking stool with three legs, where the legs are taxes labeled property, sales and income,” Rodrigue said. “Everything is balanced and the weight is distributed equally.”

In Texas, Rodrigue said, the milking stool only has two legs, property and sales, and that is part of why the property leg has to hold up more weight. In affect if has to be bigger and stronger.

“When people come to Texas, they say the property taxes are so high until they start realizing they’re not paying state income tax,” Rodrigue said. “And Texas taxes are friendly to businesses.”

According to statistics from the Tax Foundation, Texas’ total tax burden is eighth from the lowest on an individual’s total tax burden. Rodrigue notes that the appraisal district is effectively responsible for the distribution of the property tax burden.

Rodrigue said that, in theory, as values go up, tax rates would go down, but not all tax unit needs stay the same.

“If everyone were paying on market value, the tax base would be much larger, but with exemptions the tax burden shifts,” Rodrigue said.

In property taxes every exemption, special valuation, capped value (such as a cap for seniors) or tax ceiling shifts the tax burden to someone else.

Rodrigue shows a formula to make the amounts easier to compute for a property owner.

Each individual property tax burden is calculated by the equation of taking the appraised value (not market value) and dividing that by 100 then multiplying that by the tax rate.

She notes that tax rates are set based on a taxing entity’s adopted standards. And it is important to figure the appraised value is calculated by starting with market value and deducting exemptions, capped values, special valuation and with attention to tax ceilings.

In other words: appraised value – exemptions / 100 X tax rate = each individual tax burden.

“What we need folks to do is look at the value on the appraisal form and compare it to market value,” Rodrigue said. “If that value is excessive compared to market, we want to hear from them.”

Interesting facts to understand the tax burden, Rodrigue said, are found when comparing tax freedom days. Tax freedom day is the first day a person is not working to pay taxes.

For the United States as a whole in 2007, someone would work until April 26 versus in 1977 the days to work to pay lasted until April 20. In Texas for 2007, tax freedom day is April 19 while in 1977 it was April 17.

Texas ranks 42nd out of 50 states in total tax burden.

“Even though property taxes are really high, overall we’re near the bottom,” Rodrigue said. “It’s not an excuse but a fact. We’re still working about the same amount of days to pay our taxes as we did 30 years ago.”

Texans can see the tax dollars are not as high as perceived, Rodrigue said.

“If we can get the word out to people that nobody likes property taxes, but it’s the price we pay for our children’s schools, law enforcement, jails and public services,” Rodrigue said. “Some people have said taxes are the price for freedom.”

More information can be found online at www.taxfoundation.org/pdfs/whytaxesmatter.pdf.

The Ellis Central Appraisal District Web site is at elliscad.org.

E-mail Bitty at bitty.reilly@wninews.com