Montgomery County commissioners voted unanimously to reject a proposed budget increase to the Montgomery Central Appraisal District, the entity responsible for appraising property values in the county, at a May 24 commissioners court meeting.

The appraisal district’s board of directors, a separate entity from the commissioners court, voted to approve the proposed budget at a May 19 meeting, according to Chief Appraiser Tony Belinoski. For the proposal to move forward, 51% of the county’s taxing jurisdictions, which include cities, municipal utility districts, and school districts, must approve.

Taxing units individually contribute to the MCAD’s budget, with the contribution calculated through dividing their individual tax levy by the total tax levy for all taxing units, Belinoski told Community Impact Newspaper. For example, Montgomery County contributed $2.2 million to the appraisal district’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget.

The proposal would increase the district’s FY 2022-23 budget by 23.8%, according to documents submitted to commissioners court. MCAD officials cited increasing staff turnover due to lower pay.

Appraisals rose 29.8% from 2021-22 in Montgomery County. In comparison, the average market value for properties with homestead exemptions has increased no more than 11% year over year in Montgomery County since 2011, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.

MCAD Chair Bruce Tough spoke at the meeting’s public comment section, emphasizing that employees were moving to other county appraisal districts, with three of the 14 departures in 2021 moving to the Harris County Appraisal District. Tough cited a 2020 study the appraisal district conducted, showing its pay was at 67% of the market standard.

“This budget is trying to retain employees and hire new employees to handle an increasing [population],” Tough said.

Belinoski told commissioners a trainee appraiser with the MCAD receives $31,000 as a starting salary, compared to $44,000 at HCAD. Documents submitted to court showed the appraisal district, which is budgeted for 100 positions, has 14 vacancies and has not received an increase in its positions since 2017.

Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, who brought the item to the court, said inflation and uncertainty over appraisals made it difficult to green light a budget increase at this time.

“There are some really good, hardworking folks at the appraisal district,” Noack said. “Now, with the uncertainty about taxes, inflation ... I think it’s just the wrong time to come and ask for a 24% increase in your budget.”

Noack also proposed alerting other taxing jurisdictions about the proposed increase, but no action was taken at the court meeting. He told Belinoski that hiring challenges were not unique to the MCAD, but that the appraisal district could take steps to improve morale and “customer service.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, who previously served with the MCAD, called the request “a hard number.”

“I do understand the challenges, but that’s a big number,” Riley said. “I hope there’s a way that you all can do better, because I don’t see how we can support that.”

Belinoski said the May 24 presentation was intended to get feedback from taxing entities and the vacancies were “very tough.”

“We’ve had vacancies posted since November, and have gotten eight applications,” Belinoski said. “We do have a time of the year where it’s very hard to hire an appraiser, because we would have to pull other appraisers to train them.”

Belinoski confirmed to Community Impact Newspaper that the appraisal district budget would be discussed as part of its board of directors meeting Aug. 18, after other taxing jurisdictions provide feedback to the budget before June 15.

When asked what the MCAD would do if they received a reduced increase or no increase to their budget, Belinoski confirmed the district was working on “backup plans.”

For more information on the appraisal district and its budget, click here.

If you currently work or have previously worked with the Montgomery Central Appraisal District and would like to share your experiences, please email [email protected], or call or text 737-263-4725.