Appraisal district to hold line on values (mostly) this year

PRESIDIO COUNTY – The Presidio County Appraisal District (PCAD) will hold the line on property values this year, after chief appraiser Cynthia Ramirez told board members at least 50 percent of Marfa’s 1,023 homes would see an increase. Meeting in Presidio on Monday, Ramirez said many homes this year had to be reclassified, and that most of the reclassifications were increases. Board members reacted strongly to the news, prompting PCAD board member Buck Johnston to say, “What do we have to do to get in front of this?” Ramirez said, “I told Richard (Richard Petree, the PCAD’s consultant) we can’t be doing this every year.” What the PCAD will do is not implement the reclassifications this year. The concern is that many longtime Marfa property owners, and the elderly, who live on fixed or moderate incomes, will be forced to leave town because they won’t be able to afford to live in their Marfa homes. Even board members from Presidio were sympathetic to the situation. John Ferguson and Alfred Muñiz noted that even when property values rise slightly in Presidio, property tax collections decline because people have a hard time coming up with the extra property tax hit. Some relief must be figured in for long-time residents and the elderly, the backbone of any town, PCAD board members said. Presidio values are set to rise less than five percent this year, Petree noted, and there was some real estate activity in the border community last year. “Perhaps it’s time we dragged our feet a bit” on property valuation increases, PCAD director Robert Halpern said. And board member Genevieve Bassham echoed fellow board member sentiments that, despite Marfa’s increasing values, something must be done for Marfa’s rank-and-file residents. Both Ramirez and Petree said the Marfa real estate market is still on fire. “The prices people are paying for these homes . . . ” Ramirez said. “People are paying outrageous prices for some properties,” Petree said, adding that he’s a chief appraiser for Bastrop County and is a consultant for 19 appraisal districts, and “no one sees anything like this here.” The reclassification was needed to fix incorrectly classified properties, Ramirez said, but that now will be deferred. But homes that were renovated or homes that added rooms or other improvements will see their valuations rise, as will those whose increase are being mitigated and increase 10 percent each year until the market valuation is met. Homes are classified on a scale of one to six, with one being in poor condition to six being a luxury abode. There may be some repercussions from this move, Petree said. Marfa ISD may not meet the valuation threshold set by the state, that local market values must be within 95 percent of what the state says the local values should be. That affects how much state funds Marfa receives per student. Interestingly, the PCAD values last year met that threshold for Marfa ISD for the first time in several years, that technically would have provided more state funding for Marfa ISD. In the meantime, the state classified Marfa as a Chapter 41 school district, or “property rich” school district, that now must return money to the state. MISD has set aside almost $400,000 to send to Austin. Petree said that Marfa ISD might have to dig even deeper into its budget. “It’s a broken system,” Halpern said. “We met the threshold, but being a Chapter 41 school district abrogates anything positive from that.” Most folks would agree that Marfa ISD isn’t a “rich” district, even with exorbitant home sales. Petree noted that the state is set to do its ratio study in Presidio County this year, and if this year’s muted values don’t match the state values for Presidio County, the PCAD could be placed on notice to recalculate the valuations. The system is broken in another way. Homes and property must be listed at market value, but reporting real estate sales is optional. “It’ the classic Catch-22,” Halpern said. Property owners throughout the country whose values have increased – including those whose values rise 10 percent each year – should receive their new valuations in the mail in early May, Ramirez said. And “We will do what the board directs us to do,” Petree said.

(Reporter Robert Halpern is a Presidio County Appraisal District board of directors member, representing Marfa ISD).