Dear Watchdog, I received a postcard in the mail marked “Notice of Estimated Taxes.” My neighbors got it, too. Can’t tell what’s up. It refers to a dot-gov website, but the site doesn’t seem to be up and running. Does the postcard want us to know that local people raise our property taxes, not the state? Is it a scam or something helpful? And am I too suspicious? – Carol Clark of North Dallas
Carol, in today’s world, good for you! You are right to be suspicious. Postcards like this are often from private companies that want to step in and help you deal with government —for a fee, of course.
These postcards, which every residential and business property owner should have received in the past few weeks, do have the look and feel of a scam. But they are legitimate. Or rather, they are as legitimate as anything regarding your unfair, inequitable property tax could possibly be.
The postcards are from your county government. Millions have been mailed out as part of a new state law designed to help you understand how your property taxes are configured.
The website you’re referred to is supposed to offer an easier way to send pro-tax or anti-tax comments to your local governing bodies in August and September before they vote to set your tax rate. A noble idea (pardon the pun) on paper.
The Three Stooges
Please allow The Watchdog to tell you the story behind the postcard. To do that, I will call on some people you may remember — Moe, Larry and Curly of the legendary Three Stooges.
Here, each stooge represents a different government entity. And each is trying to tell you, the taxpayer, that they are not the stooge responsible for the rapid rise of your property taxes.
Moe is the Texas Legislature. He is the leader, the ruler, just like our state lawmakers. Moe was so upset that taxpayers thought the Legislature was responsible for your high taxes that Moe forced counties to send out these postcards, shifting the blame to Larry and Curly.
The only problem with that is Moe/Legislature created the property tax system, and lawmakers have the power to change it. I’m sorry, but a postcard isn’t going to do it. Plenty of bills reforming the system and cutting taxes were proposed, but they didn’t advance. This is where Moe passes the buck (sorry, again) and slaps Larry in the face with a postcard.
Larry is the county appraisal district. Larry sets the taxable value of your property, but Larry doesn’t set your tax rate. This is where Larry slaps Curly.
Curly is your local taxing unit — school district, city council, county commission, hospital or college district. Curly is currently holding hearings and then voting to set your tax rate for the year. The tax rate times your appraised value is Shemp, your actual tax bill. (Remember Shemp? The other Third Stooge.)
Each one of the stooges points a finger at the others when it comes to who deserves blame that property taxes are so high people are losing their homes.
“Not me,” Moe yells. “It’s you knuckleheads.”
“It ain’t me,” Larry shouts.
Curly denies his role too, but he does it with such a strange verbal shriek that I don’t know how to spell it for you.
Shemp is left holding the final bill. (Nobody liked Shemp much anyway. Everyone missed Curly.)
As Carol so smartly figured out in her note to The Watchdog, “Does the postcard want us to know that local people raise our property taxes, not the state?”
The main purpose of these little love notes, I hope we’ve established, is to show how the stooges all blame each other. Get it? Certainly!
What can you do? If you’re so inclined, love numbers, are curious about your taxes and want to contract your elected officials, visit your county’s website listed on the postcard.
There’s supposed to be a feedback portal in which you can send an online message to your school board members, city council and county commissioners. You can tell Curly stuff like: “Hey, Curly, school taxes are too high. Your administration building is top-heavy with too many deputy superintendents.”
Or, “Hey Curly, with my taxes so high, you darn better come and fix that pothole in front of my house that I keep calling 3-1-1 about, or I’m gonna toss a whipped cream pie in your face.”
You get the idea, right?
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.