David Ball – For The Record

It’s been a typical busy summer season for the Orange County Appraisal District, according to Chief Appraiser Michael Cedars.

“The last few months we’ve mailed out the notifications of the appraised values,” he said. “They’re notified of any change, and if so, for how much. We mail them to everybody. If the value went up last year, they’ll (the taxpayers) will want to catch it.”

Contrary to popular belief, Cedars said the OCAD has very little to do with taxes. He said they appraise the market value of 75,000 parcels in Orange County. In fact, the OCAD has already turned their attention to the 2016 tax year.

It’s been 36 years since State Rep. Wayne Peveto of Orange got his tax-appraisal bill passed, known as The Peveto Bill, which revolutionized the tax-appraisal process across the state in 1979.

Peveto’s bill created the appraisal districts that operate in every county of the state. Before, each county could perform it’s own appraisals, as well as each city, school district and any other special district, such as drainage districts, according to a prior article in The Record.

“It’s tough with a small office. Everyone is afraid the market value will change. People invest their savings into a property which is the biggest thing in their lives and they want it to increase in value,” he said.

The OCAD appraises all of the properties themselves with the exception of industry and mineral properties in which the firm of Pritchard and Abbott does the appraisals. There are five real property appraisers and personal property appraisers in the OCAD office. They are all licensed by the state. Cedars said there are many offices where the appraisers don’t have the Real Property Assessors designation.

It’s the OCAD’s duty to turn over the assessments to the Orange County Tax-Assessor’s office. There, the tax rates as decided by the commissioners court are applied to the values and the notices are sent out in October.

This year has been a “pretty typical” year for protests, Cedars said. There have been 2,000 protests with 300 of them going before the Appraisal Review Board. The values were certified by July 21.

The ARB is a separate entity from the OCAD. They are presented with the evidence of how they arrived at a particular value before they make a decision.

“The taxpayer usually doesn’t know what to bring in (for a protest),” he said. “If it’s wrong, they want it fixed. It’s easier not to re-appraise. The state audits the property values once every other year. If there’s over a 10 percent difference, they say we’re outside the confidence center and it can possibly penalize a school district. That could be really bad for them.”

During the opposite year, the state looks at OCAD procedures.

Property taxes fund the counties, cities, school districts, special districts and ports in the state.

“It funds their existence. It’s a big part of it. It’s the main part for the school district,” he said.

If property values are raised, the state has what’s called truth in taxation. The tax rate should go down if the values go up. In fact, school districts must publish in the newspaper the way the values increased and there could possibly be a rollback election.

Cedars added the Orange County Commissioners Court is cutting spending instead of raising taxes which he believes is a good thing to do.

Appraising plants is called complex properties because their cost can be really high with their infrastructure, such as pipes.

Cedars explained the pipes could still be functional, but also be really old. It comes down to its economic life versus its actual life.

Another factor with complex properties are technical changes made in which less people are employed.

There are two major approaches that can be taken by businesses: replacement cost less appreciation or through an income approach where income is generated and calculated.

On the other hand, there are six classifications of  houses. OCAD appraisers build and use models to fit schedules.

“It’s surprising how accurate they are,” Cedars said. “Our appraisers take tablets in the field.”

Aerial/satellite maps are used which matches what they’re looking at on the ground. They can also measure the area of the house with the program and determine if any changes have been made.

“We can measure it using a drawing on the computer. We can determine if it changed. We can measure by using a drawing on the computer and determine the elevation. We can tell what’s been added,” Cedars said.

The computer program hasn’t cost the taxpayers anything to this point because it’s been financed through the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission.

Recently, the OCAD had an audit of all of their exemptions. For instance, it was discovered half of the disabilities exemptions weren’t accurate.

Cedars said if anyone has a dispute, call the Orange County Appraisal District at 409-745-4777.

“A lot wanted explanations and a lot of protests were eliminated with the need for a formal meeting with the Appraisal Review Board,” he said. “If we want a fair system, everyone has to pay their fair shares. We can’t control the tax rate, but we can control the accuracy.”