Lisa Pardo, president of the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board, is running in her first contested election in 15 years.
She’s having a bit of a rough time, though, through no fault of her own.
Last month, when a property owner asked her to take down one of her signs because of sign clutter, her husband Paul volunteered. When he returned, he told her he also removed a sign for a City Council candidate.
Uh-oh. That set off a mini-crisis. A few called on her to resign from the board. Protesters carried signs to a school board meeting. “No pardon for Pardo,” one sign said.
Pardo apologized and explained her husband’s intentions were innocent.
Now a second problem has arisen. Chris Putnam, former mayor pro tem of Colleyville and a political activist, looked at Pardo’s property tax records on her Saddlebrook Drive home and found something he thought was unusual.
While the property appraisals for her seven neighbors on her street going back to 2014 have gone up, up and up in the recent housing boom, Pardo’s appraised values have dropped dramatically and, in some years, remained flat.
Her home’s market value (which is what taxpayers protest) dropped from $597,000 in 2014 to $535,900 this year. Every one of her neighbors’ appraisals went up.
In addition, her appraised value has remained stuck at $535,900 in 2017, 2018 and again this year. Highly unusual.
When you compare her situation with her neighbors, the difference is stark. In general, her neighbors’ values went up year after year and did not freeze in place as long as her house value did.
Putnam, whose wife lost a school board race last year, posted the information on social media. He pointed out that GCISD taxes have gone up and that as board president she is partly responsible for setting the district’s tax rate, which when combined with the appraised value yields an annual tax bill.
“The bottom line is while Ms. Pardo continues to materially increase our school property taxes every year, she isn’t paying one dollar more herself,” Putnam wrote.
Pardo told me she’s not benefiting from special treatment. Her advantage comes because she filed a tax protest, and with the help of a consultant, she won.
“Honestly, I open my bill,” Pardo said. “I look at it. We pay our taxes, and I move on. If you don’t try [to protest] the answer is always no. ... You gotta try. ... That’s our right. It’s crazy what they’re doing with property values. Every single person needs to do what we did.”
Broken property tax system
Obviously, the inference here is that Pardo is benefiting from favoritism. I’ve looked into the matter. I talked to her county’s chief appraiser, to her property tax consultant and to other tax consultants about this.
I’ll jump ahead to my conclusion. The problem here is not that Pardo hired a consultant who lowered her taxes. She did what The Watchdog advocates. Filing a protest is your right as a Texas homeowner.
No, the problem here is this story illustrates, perhaps unintentionally, why the current property system is such a convoluted mess. Counties do things differently, and that’s not fair to Texans.
The state Legislature is struggling to reform the system. The Pardo matter is one more reason why we need major change.
Here’s why: When I contacted Tarrant Appraisal District chief appraiser Jeffery D. Law, he explained that Pardo’s value has stayed the same because she protested and won. In Tarrant, the belief is that if you win in a protest one year, he said, your appraisal is frozen the next year. (The same thing happened to me. I won last year, so I’m frozen this year.)
The problem here is that this is not a standard followed in other Texas counties. Winning a protest one year does not guarantee zero increase the following year.
But Law points to a section in state law that says after a protest win, there can be no increase unless the chief appraiser can support it. He chooses to interpret the law that he can’t support an increase after a protest win.
That’s great for Pardo and me, who both won, but what about everybody else? And why wouldn’t this neat trick work elsewhere, too?
If it did, all you’d have to do is file a protest, win a little in savings and know that your value is frozen for the following year. The system truly would be flooded with protests.
But that’s not the way the system is supposed to work.
I also learned that looking at trend lines on a street doesn’t tell the whole story. Too many factors color a situation, and these factors don’t necessarily work to bring out the truth in an emotional political campaign.
Do seniors live in the house with frozen rates? Did a house sell? (If it did, taxes skyrocket because after a sale, the 10% cap doesn’t apply the first year.) Did the homeowners protest? What’s the square footage? How is the home’s condition?
How it happened
Will Wiggins of North Texas Property Tax Services handled Pardo’s protest in 2017. (Her previous protest before that, records show, was in 2011.) Company spokesman Chris Bawcom told me the company used comparable properties to show the district the value was too high. He knocked $120,000 off her value.
Since then her value was frozen last year and this year. Bawcom showed me that several other homes in her vicinity fell, too. Only their owners are not running in an election.
As for her critics, Pardo told me: “They look for something. They switch it around. They give just enough information to get people mad and the community riled up.”
She added, “I can’t tell you who is on the appraisal board. Nothing. ... I’m sure that now everyone has brought it to their attention, it will go up. And what I’ll do, I’ll call North Texas Property Tax Services out of Dallas and protest again. I think everybody should protest.”
She’s right. The chief appraiser told me, “I am sure that her property will be re-evaluated in future years to properly reflect market value.”
Our property tax system promises “equal and uniform taxation.”
What a joke.