DRC_Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

The Watchdog’s mailbag. Real letters from real people. These are worthy questions, and my answers are the best I can do. (Letters are edited for brevity.)

Dear Watchdog:

A family member bought a used car. The car was not drivable after only 37 days as it needed a new motor. She is presently getting rides to work as best she can, while saving for another down payment. — Brenda D.

Dear Brenda:

This is an incredibly expensive lesson for your family member, but that’s how we all learn. Rule #1 of my Watchdog Nation, a citizens’ consumer movement showing you how to protect yourself, is to research before signing any contract.

In this case, I went to an internet search engine and wrote the full name of the dealership in question in between quote marks and added the word “complaints.”

That took me to the Better Business Bureau’s site where I found two active complaints from last month covered in detail. What do people say about the company? How does a company respond?

If you read those real-time complaints on consumer websites, you get a sense of the culture before you sign and buy. You can go elsewhere.

As for this, small claims court is available to challenge businesses that treat you unfairly.

Dear Watchdog:

Companies that sell Medicare plans are calling several times a day on my home land line. I do not need the plans people are trying to sell me. Any suggestions about how to stop these annoying calls. My phone does not have Caller ID. — Phillip N.

Dear Phillip:

In your last sentence, you answered your own question. Get a phone with a Caller ID display. Some even say the number aloud or flash it on your TV.

Make sure your voice mail message says to leave a message because you listen to them and will return calls to real people, or something like that.

Then do what most of us do: screen your calls. Don’t feel the need to answer every one. Check messages at your convenience.

Dear Watchdog:

How do I protest my property values in district court? The other option is to protest through binding arbitration which costs $500. — Jayne

Dear Jayne:

I did binding arbitration last year. It was quite the gamble since I had to put up that $500. But my appraisal district blinked and gave me my low, requested value so the hearing was canceled and I got a refund. Risky business.

As for court, unless you’re willing to spend time in a law library learning how to file your own lawsuit, you’d need a lawyer. Businesses hire lawyers and go to court over their property tax bill. Homeowners? Not so much.

Your county bar association usually offers free legal clinics, so you could always go to one with questions.

Dear Watchdog:

On some robo calls, they say “Press star” to indicate you are not interested. Should I ever, ever do this? — June S.

Dear June:

You should never, ever do that. It shows the criminal caller that a live person is there. Just hang up.

Dear Watchdog:

We own a home in Denton County, and they raised the assessed value on our home by 10%. In your column on the new property tax law you stated the maximum the county could raise the revenue was 8%. Does that mean that 8% was the maximum they could raise the assessed value of a property? Do you know what the maximum percentage is that Denton County can raise the assessed value of a residential property? — Johnny A.

Dear Johnny:

You are confusing a couple of numbers, which is understandable.

First, forget the 8% number. That was the old cap that city and county governments were allowed to increase tax collection by in their annual budget. If they hit an 8% increase or above with a specific tax rate they set, a rollback election was held.

The new number for a rollback election is a 3.5% increase for larger cities and counties. For school districts, it’s a 2.5% increase that requires an election.

So what’s the 10% figure? That, according to state law, is the maximum allowable increase from year to year on the assessed value of your home. If your home was assessed for tax purposes at $200,000 last year, the maximum this year would be $220,000. That’s why many of us see on our appraisal notices a year-to-year increase of 9.99%, just under the cap.

Amazing — and quite annoying — the way they do that.

Write to The Watchdog at watchdog@dallasnews.com. Or send a letter the old-fashioned way to me at The Dallas Morning News, 1954 Commerce St., Dallas, TX 75201.

I read them all — and try to answer all correspondence.

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