County Appraisal District seeks new property tax methods

Board members of the Presidio County Appraisal District are hoping for a golden ticket that would pull back the reins on Marfa’s runaway property tax numbers. The board met last Thursday at the district’s office, and Robert Halpern, a representative for Marfa ISD, proposed a meeting with Reeves County Chief Appraiser John Huddleston, who could provide an alternate method to appraise properties in Presidio County. The board also received a glowing audit for 2018 from Painter and Associates, and passed a 2020 budget that gave raises to PCAD employees, whose pay has lagged behind comparable Texas counties for years.

Halpern and a few other board members met informally with Huddleston this year, on the advice of Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton. Ponton is also the Pecos City Attorney and is familiar with Huddleston’s work.

Huddleston’s appraisal technique is “more of an income approach,” Halpern explained. The idea, Halpern said, is to shift the tax burden off of homesteaded, long-time property owners, and instead increase taxes for often-absent homeowners who rent their homes short-term to generate income. It’s an income approach instead of a cost approach.” The county is currently appraising residential properties based on sale value, or the cost of the property.

Cynthia Ramirez, Presidio’s Chief Appraiser, reminded the board that PCAD currently has a contract through 2020 with Property Appraisal Consultant Richard Petree, who has worked with the county for years. She also asked if Huddleston would take over all the work that Petree does for the county. Halpern said that depends upon the scope of responsibilities Petree has.

Board member Buck Johnston said it wasn’t a criticism of Petree’s work, and she would also like to pursue a meeting with Huddleston to gather more information. She said high property taxes were permanently changing the town, and, “If Huddleston can help with the tax burden–I mean we’re changing the climate of our community. I think every entity on this board needs to talk about this.”

Alfred Muniz, who represents Presidio ISD, interjected, “It’s getting to a point where it’s getting difficult for the community members to be able to hold onto their households. So, we need to start looking at every option.”

Judge Cinderela Guevara hoped that beginning conversations with Huddleston wouldn’t mean the end of a contract for Petree. Instead, she asked the board to consider adding Huddleston as a consultant to work with Petree on these alternate appraisal ideas. “I listened to Mr. Huddleston; he had some good ideas.”

Huddleston, in his unofficial meeting with some board members, mentioned a few places that the county might be losing out on tax revenues currently. PCAD could tax ranches that collect revenue from hunting, collect more money from Village Farms based on their revenues, use income-based taxes on landowners with oil and gas leases, and value residential homes higher if they are earning revenue from short term rentals like Airbnb.

The county isn’t a complete stranger to income-based taxation, since Marfa’s four hotels are already taxed according to their income, Halpern pointed out. Ramirez confirmed that the PCAD collects more money from hotels with the income-based approach than it could with cost-based taxing.

Muniz implored, “We’ve got to start helping these people. People are going to be run out of town,” and Ramirez shot back, “But that is not us, it is what the homes are selling for here. If they’d stop selling for the outrageous prices on the market–.” Johnston said they all knew that there was no way sellers would lower their home prices when there are buyers willing to pay that much.

“So is there a way to shift the burden on the homesteader to some of the 150 income homes we have in Marfa, or whatever the Airbnb number is?” Halpern asked, believing Huddleston might hold the key to that question. 

“Ok, so no harm then in scheduling an informative session with Huddleston,” Judge Guevara, who presided over the meeting, concluded. Halpern pushed for a special meeting, rather than waiting until the next scheduled PCAD meeting in October. The board voted to schedule a special meeting with Huddleston for early September in Marfa. 

Commissioner Aranda suggested, “I brought this up about a year or two ago, about finding solutions for these problems.” He addressed Ramirez, “I know Petree’s helping you out, but we need to look into the interest of the people. It’s hard to live here in Marfa, and it’s going to be hard to live in Presidio in the future.” 

Aranda finished, “This comes to us. Everybody is always asking, “What are you going to do about it?” Many board members are hoping a meeting with Huddleston is the first step to answering the public’s question.