Local property owners might notice something peculiar about their tax bills this year –– they’re really screwed up. Residents are complaining about property tax statements that don’t include homestead or senior exemptions, meaning their tax bill is higher than expected. And some say their tax statements are missing crucial information, including the property owner’s name, meaning some owners aren’t receiving bills at all.
The county mailed out tax statements about a month ago.
A local landlord said he hasn’t received tax statements for about a fourth of the several dozens properties he owns. He said Tarrant Appraisal District has been slow to update information regarding property transactions. The landlord, who didn’t want to be named in this article for fear of tax repercussions, likes to create a spreadsheet each tax season and pay all of his taxes with one check. But the appraisal district’s slowness in updating its property information means he can’t do that any longer. Some of his properties remain listed under previous owners, meaning they’ll be getting his tax bills.
“I still have not received bills for those pieces of property,” the landlord said. “I’ve owned property in Tarrant County since the early 1970s and have never had this problem before.”
He called the county tax office and was told to call the appraisal district. Someone at the appraisal district told him to call the county tax office. Now he’s fed up with both offices.
“There seems to be little or no communication between TAD and the county tax office,” the landlord said. “Everybody says it’s somebody else’s problem.”
The appraisal district tracks properties across the county, listing the owners, improvements, values, exemptions, and other information. That information is sent each year to the tax office to issue tax bills.
If an exemption is left off and the amount being taxed is too high, property owners are asked to pay the billed amount. The county will reimburse property owners who pay too much. But if faulty information means the county doesn’t tax residents enough, the residents will be expected to pay the correct amount at some point.
“I want to pay my property taxes, and I don’t want to pay penalty and interest,” the landlord said. “I just want to make sure it’s right. It’s a whole jumbled mess.”
The man wasn’t sure who to blame, but he didn’t like the idea that the guy in charge of the county tax office, Ron Wright, is busy being political rather than ensuring that tax statements are correct.
“Ron Wright is spending his time putting ‘In God We Trust’ on everything when he ought to be paying attention to taxing,” the landlord said.
Wright took over as tax assessor-collector after Betsy Price relinquished the job to run for mayor in 2011. Wright attracted national attention last year when he began adding “In God We Trust” at the bottom of tax statements, on the envelope flaps, and on an enclosed pamphlet. About 30 residents complained to the tax office. Wright was steadfast.
“ ‘In God We Trust’ is the official motto of the United States of America,” Wright told the Fort Worth Weekly back then. “There is nothing wrong with putting the motto of your country on a government document.”
In October, the conservative Wright drew the wrath of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board after his office stopped supporting United Way. The nonprofit group was passing along donations to Planned Parenthood, a group tied to abortions that was under attack by conservatives over the alleged sales of fetal tissue.
Wright acknowledged that the county is having difficulty issuing accurate property tax statements. He blamed new computer software that the appraisal district contracted last year for about $1.9 million. Wright’s office generates tax bills based on information supplied by the appraisal district.
“We’re dependent on them for the accuracy of the information,” he said.
The district “installed a new operating system last October  after all the tax statements had gone out,” Wright said. “This is the first year we’re operating under the new appraisal district software. Like any new operating program … it takes about a year to work the bugs out of a program like that.”
The new computer system was sorely needed, Wright said, replacing one that was 30 years old.
“The appraisal district has been working all year to get the kinks out,” he said. “It’s been extremely challenging. I told my staff a year and half ago, ‘These things rarely go well, and there will be a lot of problems, and we need to be ready for that.’ ”
The appraisal district tracks more than 1.6 million property accounts. Problems include delays in getting statements mailed and accounts updated. Perhaps the most widespread problem has been slowness in updating the various mineral accounts tied in with local properties. The appraisal district was tracking 775,000 mineral accounts in 2014. That number has grown by 200,000 in the past year.
Appraisal districts were created after the 1979 Texas Legislature. Tarrant County district’s old mainframe computer system was installed in the early 1980s. The new software system is server-based. Converting 30 years of information to a new system proved to be a challenge.
“The initial [tax] rolls and supplements they sent us, we couldn’t even enter into our system,” Wright said of TAD’s new software. “It was a totally different format from the previous system, particularly where names and addresses were concerned.”
Employees received training for the new software, but “there is a learning curve for us,” chief appraiser Jeff Law said. “We came across issues, worked on them, corrected them. The biggest problem causing taxpayer concerns is there are people who haven’t gotten tax bills on time.”
Law was distressed to hear about the landlord complaining of being bounced back and forth between TAD and the tax office.
Wright and Law “try our best not to bounce taxpayers back and forth between our offices,” he said.
But the large number of accounts with problems has created more customer calls and problems than usual.
Wright doesn’t anticipate the problems lingering beyond this year. The appraisal district is making “vast improvements” and “should have all the kinks worked out” soon, he said.
“It really was time for a change,” Wright said. “They did the best they could with getting the corrections and improvements made as they went along.”