Yeah, I’m nervous. I’m sitting in my property tax protest hearing, and I’m outnumbered. Five of them. One of me.
My stomach is queasy. My voice sounds weak.
Then the nerves are replaced with little anger pangs. I don’t like what I’m seeing. The three wise men on the Tarrant County Appraisal Review Board? Although they look like they’ve been sitting there since 1953, they don’t bother me. Even though they won’t match my request, I’ll give them high grades for fairness on the post-hearing survey.
It’s the other two guys in the room that annoy me.
First, the guy arguing for the appraisal district says something I don’t like.
I present bids from Lowe’s showing how much it would cost to replace our aging wood and tile floors before a home sale.
During his rebuttal, the district guy says, “Lowe’s is pretty high in my experience. A lot of times there very well might be less expensive offers out there.”
That gets me. By my wife’s sound logic, if you hire contractors working under the banner of a big-box store, they’re less likely to rip you off.
Dude, I want to say to the appraisal district guy, like it’s your business where I get bids from and who to hire?
Instead, I say in my rebuttal to his rebuttal, “Well, I’d like you to come to my house and tell my wife that the Lowe’s bid was too high. She loves the Lowe’s guys.”
He doesn’t respond.
Who is the mystery man?
I turn my attention to the fifth man in the room. He’s an older fellow sitting in the far corner, frowning, looking bored, staring at his phone, never once looking at me.
“Can I find out who the gentleman is in the corner?” I ask. “Just for curiosity’s sake.”
“I’m Randy Armstrong.”
“Hi, Mr. Armstrong,” I say cheerily.
He doesn’t respond.
The board votes to knock $17,000 off my market value. Not bad, but I want more. Push and push, is my philosophy, until somebody blinks.
Honchos monitor my hearing
Out in the hallway, I watch Armstrong disappear into the den of back offices. I pull out my phone and web search his name.
Armstrong is director of the residential division for the appraisal district. OK, top guys are monitoring my hearing.
Then I see in search results that Armstrong is also president of the White Settlement ISD school board.
The Watchdog is already on record opposing people working in appraisal district jobs that help set taxable value at the same time as they sit on government boards that set annual tax rates.
Although allowed by law, it appears to me to be a potential conflict.
I’ve reported before about how Lewisville Mayor Rudy Durham is also chief appraiser of the Denton Central Appraisal District. Denton school board Vice President Charles Stafford is also chairman of the same Denton appraisal district.
I’ve tried contacting Armstrong to discuss this with him.
He doesn’t respond.
Go to binding arbitration
I’m not giving up. I have incentive to continue my quest of brinkmanship. Push and push, until somebody blinks.
Maybe you remember in 2017 I launched an “Everybody File a Protest Campaign” with its own green flag (for money). It was designed to expose thousands of homeowners to the unfairness and unpredictability of the Texas property tax system.
Every year, I try something different.
This past year, the next new thing for me to try: binding arbitration.
I know it’s a fool’s errand. But 11,000 Texans a year go to binding arbitration, and even though I call myself leader of “Property Tax Central,” I don’t know much about the process. I receive permission from my wife to spend $500.
If the arbitrator rules in the appraisal district’s favor, I lose everything.
If I win, I’d get $450 back.
Even worse, I risk losing twice what I would save in taxes. It’s a stupid bet, but you don’t win if you don’t play.
Dallas property tax consultant Rob Wheelock, who has worked as an arbitrator on more than 150 cases, explains that appraisal districts sometimes like to settle before arbitration.
“If they lose, they have to cough up the money,” he says.
I want another $8,000 knocked off. Push and push, until somebody blinks. I apply for arbitration with a $500 cashier’s check. Then comes a 45-day “cooling-off period.”
I wait. Around Thanksgiving, I get a letter. The district wants to settle for the original amount I requested. The hearing is canceled. I get $450 back. A Thanksgiving miracle.
Tax savings from my brinkmanship? A mere $241. A lot of work in time spent, trips to the appraisal district, letters to write and forms to sign.
What a dumb system.
Somebody blinked, and it wasn’t me.
Here comes 2019 to do it all over again.