Appraisal district draws heat

A group of area residents are hot under the collar, and it has nothing to do with summertime temperatures.About 15 people dissatisfied with their property tax bills aired their grievances at Wednesday's meeting of the Howard County Appraisal District board of directors.The group voiced a variety of complaints, ranging from their belief their valuations were too high to their confusion over how property assessments are reached.“The process just seems way too arbitrary to me,” Debbie Perkins said. “My husband and I have lived in Highland South for the past 17 years, and we have made zero improvements on our home, yet our tax bills are basically the same as some of our neighbors, who have bigger homes.”Perkins said the situation has soured her on remaining in Big Spring.“I'm here because I love Big Spring, but if this keeps up, we'll be leaving,” she said. “Something is definitely wrong.”Total property valuations for Howard County will rise this year, but final numbers won't be available until later this month. Chief Appraiser Ronnie Babcock said during the meeting that basically all residential properties in the county received higher assessments this year, while some commercial properties are not subject to an increase.Perkins' major request of the board was to see figures showing how valuations are assessed locally, and was assured by Chief Appraiser Ronnie Babcock that such information would be provided.Steve Chrane called the way assessments are reached “ridiculous.”“In some cases, I've seen assessments darned near doubled in the past few years,” Crane said. “Some of this stuff is just utterly ridiculous … I've been told by some people that when they protest their assessments, the (review board) doesn't even listen to them.”Chrane had a long litany of complaints, ranging from what he called a lack of accountability on the part of appraisal district employees to his belief that Howard County residents are grossly over-taxed compared to people in surrounding counties.But another of his assertions — that the Alon Refinery also was being unreasonably taxed — brought a quick rejoinder from Board Chairman Donnie Baker.“As far as the refinery goes, you don't have a clue what you're talking about, Hoss, I'll tell you that,” Baker said.Alon and the appraisal district have had several legal battles in recent years over concerning the refinery's tax bill.Babcock told the group that state law requires the district to assess property at 100 percent of its market value. That value, he said, is driven by what similar properties are being sold for.“Purchases decide what the market value is,” he said.“We're all Big Spring and Howard County folks,” Baker added. “Nothing would please us more than to tell Ronnie and his appraisers, 'You know, just cut everybody's appraisal in half' … but the state won't let us do that.”Afterwards, Baker said the meeting was, by and large, positive.“I think a majority of the people here at least got some things off their chest,” he said. “I'm sure they're not completely satisfied, but they had the opportunity to say their piece.”