What's New . . .
The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has reduced the amount collected to fund the Texas Universal Service Fund (TUSF) by $144 million. The TUSF is supported by a 4.4 percent tax assessed on every phone bill, including cellular phones, in the state. At this point, it is unclear by what percentage the tax will be reduced. The original purpose of the fund was to ensure that basic local phone service was provided at reasonable rates to high-cost rural areas. The reduction will be phased in over four years. The new lower tax rate should be established by the PUC in the next few months.
On April 29th, the Legislative Study Committee for Private Participation in Toll Projects, which I chair, met in Houston to examine the future of transportation financing and infrastructure for the state. The Committee heard testimony from financial and transportation experts from throughout the country, in addition to testimony from local and state transportation officials. The Committee was created by SB 792, which the Legislature passed in the 2007 Session to place a temporary moratorium on privately financed and operated toll roads; it is composed of three Senators appointed by the Lt. Governor, three Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House and three public members appointed by the Governor. The Committee will meet three more times during the interim, including August 12th in Irving.
State Senator John Whitmire of Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has proposed a radical restructuring of the Texas Youth Commission. As you may recall, TYC has been subject to extensive legislative and gubernatorial oversight since the 2007 Session when incidents of guards sexually assaulting inmates at several TYC facilities became public. Since then, several top officials and TYC's governing board have resigned, and the agency has been placed into conservatorship. Among the changes, Senator Whitmire proposes to shut down many of TYC's rural detention facilities, since most offenders are from urban areas, replacing them with facilities located closer to our state's population centers.
Comptroller Susan Combs announced that businesses unable to meet the May 15th due date for the revised franchise tax will have an additional 30 days to submit their returns or file an extension without penalty. In making the announcement, Combs cited the newness of the tax and enhanced electronic reporting methods as well as the importance of taxpayers accurately completing their returns in the first year of the revised tax. Information about the revised franchise tax is available on the Comptroller's website, or by calling 1-800-252-1381. The Legislature will be monitoring implementation of the revised franchise tax very closely for necessary adjustments to this new tax structure. In related news, the Business Tax Advisory Committee, composed of members of the public and Legislature, met in Austin on Monday, April 28, to study the revised tax's impact on businesses and our state's economy.
This committee will issue a report to the Legislature in advance of the 2009 Legislative Session.
The Department of Family and Protective Services, of which Child Protective Services is a division, is now including updates on their website's homepage about the status of the children who were removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch and the status of the ongoing investigation, as well as answers to frequently asked questions relating to the investigation. While this controversial action has drawn both ire and praise, great care is being taken to protect the children involved and move expeditiously to resolution in this very sensitive matter.
During Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26, you can get a break from state and local sales taxes when you purchase energy efficient appliances and other household equipment with an Energy Star label. The break applies to air conditioners priced less than $6,000, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, dishwashers and numerous other household appliances. For a complete list of eligible items and more information on the Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday, click here.
Focus . . .
This month, I would like to give you an overview of the history, organization and responsibilities of the Dallas Central Appraisal District (DCAD), which is responsible for appraising residential and commercial property for the 61 local governing/taxing entities in Dallas County. It is important to note that the appraisal districts do not set tax rates or collect property taxes. These responsibilities lie with the governmental entities served by an appraisal district, and many local governments within Dallas County have their property taxes collected by the Dallas County Tax Office.
Appraisal districts were established in 1981, following the passage of SB 621 during the 1979 Legislative Session. Prior to the passage of SB 621, each local government that assessed a property tax could appraise property within its jurisdiction, which resulted in over 3,000 tax offices throughout Texas. Since each office had its own standards and practices and personnel, who had widely varying qualifications, assessing property, appraised property values across the state were inequitable and too often inaccurate. Property owners were also required to work with several tax offices to resolve any dispute relating to the property's valuation, and one property would often be appraised at different values. SB 621 required that each county have one centralized agency (appraisal district) to accurately, fairly and equitably appraise property within the county.
The DCAD is governed by a six-member board of directors that represents the 61 local governments of Dallas County. The City of Dallas, Dallas County and Dallas Independent School District each appoint one member with the remaining municipal governments appointing one member and the remaining school districts in Dallas County appointing one member. The Dallas County Tax Assessor-Collector serves by law as a non-voting sixth member of the board. The board appoints a chief appraiser who is responsible for the daily operation of the DCAD and supervises its approximately 250 employees.
The DCAD uses numerous factors when appraising the value of a property with the goal of accurately determining the property's market value. Among the factors considered are any improvements made to the property, such as adding a swimming pool or a new room or significantly remodeling the home; its location; demand; and the sales price of similar properties in the area.
The DCAD is also responsible for administering property tax exemption laws, which exempt all or part of a property's taxable value from property taxation. The most common exemption is the General Residential Homestead exemption, which is available for a residential property that is the primary residence of the property owner. All school districts in Texas are required to grant a $15,000 reduction in appraised value for properties with a homestead exemption. Individuals who claim a homestead exemption and are over 65 or disabled are also able to claim exemptions that freeze certain property taxes at the amount paid when they qualified for the exemption. Charitable and religious organizations are also eligible for exemptions. Exemptions are not automatically applied. If you are entitled to an exemption, you must specifically apply and the appraisal district can provide you with all the necessary information and forms to do so.
If you disagree with the appraised value of your home, you have the right to protest its valuation to the Appraisal Review Board (ARB), which is composed of private citizens appointed by the DCAD Board of Directors to two-year terms. The ARB is charged with resolving disputes between the DCAD and taxpayers relating to the appraised value of a property and the granting of exemptions. A protest must be filed within 30 days of the delivery of the Notice of Appraised Value or by May 31, whichever is later. (This year, the deadline is extended to June 2, since May 31 falls on a Saturday.) All protests must be mailed or hand delivered to the DCAD. If you fail to file a timely protest, you will be unable to protest your appraisal.
After filing a protest, a protest hearing will be scheduled, during which the property owner and DCAD will be able to present evidence relating to the property's assessed value. These hearings are usually conducted before a three-member panel of ARB members and usually last around 15 minutes. Property owners will know the panel's recommendation on the property's appraised value before they leave the hearing; however, that recommendation will need to be approved by the DCAD. You may also informally protest your appraisal with a staff member of the DCAD prior to a formal hearing before the ARB. For more information on protesting your appraisal and supporting documents, you will need when protesting, click here. Please remember that this process is to dispute the value of your property, not the amount of tax you may owe.
Issues with how much you are being taxed on your property should be addressed to the taxing entities (your city, county, school district, other special districts) during their budgeting processes. These entities typically are working on their budgets and hold public hearings on their proposed budgets and tax rates during the late summer months as they must adopt their tax rates by the end of September each year.
Did You Know . . . ?
Texas has one of the largest motorcyclist populations in the nation; unfortunately, our state also has too many motorcycle crashes. Seventy-five percent of motorcycle crashes involve collisions with another vehicle; and according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, more than 50 percent of all crashes involving a motorcycle and a passenger car occur because the motorist did not see the motorcycle or did not see the motorcycle soon enough to respond.
With May being motorcycle awareness month, I would like to share a few tips on how to share the road with motorcycles:
Give motorcycles their full lane
Use signals when appropriate
Treat riders with courtesy and respect
Allow plenty of space when following a motorcycle
For more information on other motorcycle safety and awareness measures, please visit www.looklearnlive.org.
Also, the Texas Department of State Health Services has launched Ready or Not? HAVE A PLAN (¿Estás Listo? HAGAMOS UN PLAN), a bilingual education campaign that focuses on family emergency preparedness for the spring and summer storm season. Visit www.TexasPrepares.org (www.TexasPrepara.org) for information on building a custom plan step by step.
Student Opportunity . . .
The Texas Department of Transportation is accepting applications for summer jobs for high school and college students. This program provides valuable work experience prior to graduation. To find out more information and to apply on-line, click here. The application deadline is May 15th.
In Closing . . .
Don't forget to participate in your local municipal, school board, and other special elections on Saturday, May 10th. Early voting runs through May 6th. Check with the Dallas County Elections Department for early voting locations, dates and times.
State Senator - District 16
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.
Dallas, TX 75205