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Joe Briggs

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06/28/04  ARB, Dallas Property, Taxes, Protests 

Consider this quote by James Madison concerning the apportionment of property Taxes.....
The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling which they overburden the inferior number is a shilling saved to their own pockets.

James Madison, Federalist No. 10, November 23, 1787

E-mail memo recently to several Dallas Morning News reporters:
Thank all of you for your articles covering the issues of Real Estate Values, Property Taxes, DCAD and the protest process.  I wish you would look a little deeper into the process, please survey and report on some of the area citizens that have attended the informal and Appraisal Review Board Hearings in their attempts to protest their tax valuations and present their evidence and arguments.  Only through a public examination can we determine if the process is being applied fairly and equally per the Texas Property and Tax Codes.  I question that true justice is being served.
From my recent experience, the DCAD Appraisal Board has become prejudiced, very rigid and defiant in defending their valuations, which seem to be following predetermined agenda.
It also semi apparent that it is being driven by the AB Management's directive to "Hold the line on Proposed Valuations" in their attempt to drive up property values and the tax rolls.
I have been told, and also overheard the AB Staff reply to others, in the face of evidence that supports a lower valuation that, "I am sorry, my hands are tied, if I did that I would lose my job."  Further, a Senior Staff Supervisor remarked to me last year:  "There is nothing you can show me that will convince me that any property in Dallas County is worth less than 90 cents a sq. ft."  Contrary to their own appraisals.  That calculates 43,560 sq. ft. X . 90 = $39,204 an acre for open land.  That was irrespective of encroachment of Floodplain and/or and Escarpment Zones, plus evidence of comparable sales in area for $4,999 an acre.  They force you to the ARB Hearing and hope they can sway the outcome.  Current initiatives show that our local governments are becoming money vacuums, due to the budget crisis and the "Big Project Plans," Zoo Funding, Trinity River, New Football Stadium, Public Service Salaries, Teachers Salaries, etc.
Private citizens cannot just take apportionment action to increase their incomes and have to live on a budget regardless of what living costs increase.  Sometimes we learn to do without, or delay a purchase until we can afford it.
Previously (middle 1990s) the staff was seasoned, cordial, helpful and was reasonable on the facts, more recently, last year and more so this year, the "new" relative inexperienced staff, is very bureaucratic, contentious and undeterred by the facts and the requirements of the Texas Property Codes to consider each property based on it's own characteristics.  Objective things, like not having a pool when they show one, etc., easy; subjective value things very difficult.
None of the immediate AB staff I have encountered have been advised on the effects of Flood Plain and the Dallas Escarpment Regulations.  When I have asked them if they knew what it was (Escarpment), they seem puzzled and do not have any idea.  I have even had to explain the subjects, present parts from the Texas Property Code and Dallas Development Code in my ARB protest hearings.  They get further confused when it involves an Agriculture Exception.  It's common that the Appraisal Board Rep. will become irritated, attempts to cast doubt before the review committee, even to the point of denying it effects the value.  But, the regulations are contained in The Dallas Development Code and City Ordinances, it's law, regardless of their opinion.
Properties that fall within the Escarpment Zone are restricted from development and cannot be developed.  Property laying adjacent is designated as the Geological Similar Area (GSA). That property owner has to undertake expensive engineering and environmental studies before they can apply for a development and/or zoning permit.  If it's proven to be scientifically OK, than it's presented to an Escarpment Review Committee, containing members from each City Department and representatives from local citizen action and environmental groups.  It's an up or down vote for permission to move forward with any development process.  In other words, you have to pay tax on it whether we can use it or not.
You are probably asking, What's the Escarpment Zone.  Its the area that extends into Southwest Dallas County and stretches south along Spur 408, Hwy 67 and I-35 down to the hill county.  Geologically, it's the fault line between the Austin Chalk and Eagle Ford Shale formations.
Using a Model T. Ford as an analogy; An old rusted one, sitting in a farmers field is worth very little compared to a fully resorted one in Show Condition.  Reason is obvious, it takes a lot of resources, time & money to rebuild that car and make it show worthy.  Likewise with property.  The predevelopment process; Engineering and Environmental Studies, Permitting, Rezoning, Platting, and bringing utilities and egress to the property is a very expensive process.  Yes, the Land, like the Model T, may have potential, but they both require the input of resources, which raises the value of both.
The AB is attempting to use developed properties to value undeveloped tracts.  Likewise they have also been very zealous in raising valuations in established neighborhoods.
Additional quotes, James Madison:
A just security to property is not afforded by that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species.

James Madison, Essay on Property, March 29, 1792


Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.

James Madison, Essay on Property, March 29, 1792


Joe Briggs





  Ward politics is the Devil's key to the soul of the city council.  It is how some council members got themselves in trouble in the past.  It is the bait that will get others in trouble in the future. 4/6/8