Residents whose homes were damaged as a result of Hurricane Harvey in late August may see some relief on their annual tax bills following requests from taxing entities to reappraise home values in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County Commissioners Court and The Woodlands Township board of directors unanimously passed resolutions in September calling for the inspections of residential property damaged as a result of flooding in late August.
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal said he did not feel comfortable asking county taxpayers to pay more than their houses are now worth.
“I’m having a hard time sending somebody a full tax bill for a house that’s unusable, so we’d like to get the appraisal district to reappraise those homes—at least for this year,” Doyal said.
According to Section 23.02 of the Texas Tax Code, the county is eligible for reappraisal following a disaster declaration, which was declared by Gov. Greg Abbott on Aug. 25. Montgomery County and The Woodlands Township will pay for any costs associated with the reappraisals, according to county officials.
“In Montgomery County, we’re working as closely as we can to eliminate any excess charges or costs to be passed on,” Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae said during a Sept. 21 presentation to the township board of directors.
Following initial assessments from the Montgomery Central Appraisal District, approximately 218 out of 8,000 homes in Montgomery County’s portion of The Woodlands saw significant water damage that could affect property values. While the county does expect a loss in property tax revenue for the next fiscal year, officials said smaller taxing entities with less damage are not likely to see much of an effect.
Estimates for Harris County’s portion of the township, including homes near Spring Creek, had not been released as of press time. However, homes near The Woodlands along Spring Creek, including Timber Ridge and Timber Lakes as well as Rayford Road, in South Montgomery County and North Harris County were among the most affected, according to the township. Homes throughout Montgomery County, including in Conroe and Willis, also saw significant damage.
“We’ve been working with the [Montgomery County] Office of Emergency Management, the county as well as all the cities with as many people as we can to identify as many properties as we can that were damaged,” MCAD Deputy Chief Appraiser Tony Belinoski said. “We started looking at the properties prior to the commissioners passing the resolution because anytime a property is damaged—especially due to flooding—it affects their market value going forward.”
While savings to homeowners will likely vary based on the amount of damage sustained, McRae estimated savings on the township’s portion of the tax bill could be around $165 assuming a 50 percent loss in value on an average home value of $424,000 for a Montgomery County home in The Woodlands. MCAD could not provide estimates for any county tax bill savings.
For homes with new appraisal values, property taxes will be prorated—or changed to reflect the new property value—from the time of the disaster until the end of the year. The move could result in partial tax refunds for some residents, McRae said.
While the requests from the county and township covers all homes damaged in Montgomery County and the township’s portion of Harris County, the reappraisal will only affect the county and township portions of property tax bills paid by homeowners.
“There [are]five taxing entities in The Woodlands—sometimes six depending on where you live—and each tax entity individually has to agree if they wanted to accept an impaired reappraisal due to storm damage,” Bunch said. “We certainly appreciate Montgomery County stepping up and taking the lead and understand that not every taxing entity in the county is following suit.”
The appraised values for school districts, emergency services districts and other taxing entities will remain unchanged unless those entities decide to adjust their values as well. The county’s portion accounts for approximately 16 percent of the average tax bill, and the township, on average, accounts for 9 percent, according to the county.
As of early October no other cities in Montgomery County, including Shenandoah and Oak Ridge North, had requested reappraisals.
Conroe ISD—which accounts for nearly half of property taxes on the average bill in The Woodlands—had initially announced it would consider reappraisals on a posted board meeting agenda for Sept. 19. However, the district later decided to remove the measure.
CISD board President Melanie Bush said although the items were removed from the September board meeting agenda, there is still a possibility property reappraisals could be revisited during the Oct. 17 board meeting.
“I truly hope that our board will reconsider discussing the matter,” Bush said. “I do feel like it is a disservice to our taxpayers whose property has been damaged to not even discuss it.”
McRae said while there is no deadline to request reappraisals, entities should request to be included soon to streamline the process of sending new tax statements and potential refunds.
“I reached out to every taxing jurisdiction collected by the Montgomery County Tax Office, and I asked them to take action by Nov. 15 if possible, only because the county has already authorized it and our appraisal district is already on top of it,” McRae said. “Once [reappraisers]complete the counties, I am obligated to send those corrected tax statements and refunds.”
Bunch said the board has requested for township staff to send letters to other taxing entities in the boundaries of the township, asking to consider supporting the reappraisal process.
Belinoski said MCAD has already begun compiling data on the damage and expects to complete surveying the area by mid-to-late November.
For residents who have already begun cleanup and repair work, flood damage may not be easily visible for MCAD appraisers, Bunch said. As a result, the township and MCAD are encouraging homeowners with flood damage to file a survey with the district, detailing water levels and the extent of damage received in their homes.
Residents in Harris County concerned with repeat flooding can also be considered for the Harris County Flood Control District’s Home Buyout Program by submitting a voluntary interest form.
Buyouts are used by HCFCD to buy homes deep in flood plain areas, according to the district. The program began in 1985 and to date, about 3,000 homes have purchased and demolished to restore flood plain land.
In Montgomery County, the Community Development Office is working to launch a buyout program for homes affected in the 2016 floods, said Jim Fredricks, chief of staff for Doyal’s office. However, buyout funds are not available yet for home affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“We are taking the names of any interested parties and will notify them and the public should the federal government authorize funds for buyouts in Montgomery County,” he said.
While reappraisals have already begun, MCAD does not expect to have them completed before tax bills are sent to homeowners in mid-October, so corrected bills will need to be sent later in the year, McRae said.
“When the tax statements go out they will be for that full value,” she said. “Hopefully by [early]to mid-December, we will send corrected tax statements. For those people that have already paid their property taxes we will automatically issue refund checks back to them for the difference for the township and/or the county.”
Additional reporting by Beth Marshall