‘Tis the season…for tax bills. As I paid mine this weekend, I reflected on how Montgomery County’s under-appraisals of sand mines resulted in over-taxation of other properties there and elsewhere. Here’s how.
Lone Star College System Provides Basis for Comparson
The Lone Star College System taxes property in several counties including Montgomery and surrounding counties. That includes northern Harris County. Lone Star’s tax rate is identical in each: 0.107800. However, because Montgomery County consistently under-values sand-mine properties, other property owners there and in surrounding counties must pay more than their fare share of Lone Star taxes to balance Lone Star’s budget.
In September, I ran a series of posts focused on sand mine appraisals in Montgomery County. The first examined the sand mine on the East Fork. The second examined multiple sand mines on the West Fork. The third talked about how Montgomery County consistently under-classified the use of sand-mine land. Of the 53 different parcels of land sampled, not one was classified as a sand mine.
Montgomery County classified:
- 16 parcels as “Timber” even though there was no or little timber on them and the land was clearly being used for sand mining.
- 31 parcels as “Vacant” despite mining operations on the property.
To be fair, miners had not yet timbered parts of several parcels intended for expansion.
The Timber Dividend in Sand Mines
I started digging back into the sand-mine property tax bills to see how much of a break these big businesses were getting compared to me.
One 10-acre parcel owned by Guniganti Family Property Holdings on the East Fork (see below) received a timber exemption even though there’s scarcely a tree on the property and the land hasn’t been in timber for years. It clearly doesn’t meet the qualifications for the timber exemption as outlined by the Texas State Comptroller. The official that I talked to in the Montgomery County Appraisal District office agreed.
On those 10-acres, the Guniganti’s paid a total of $10.78 in tax to the Lone Star College System or $1.08 per acre. By comparison, I paid $338 to Lone Star for my one-acre residential lot in northern Harris County. That means, the Guniganti’s paid 313 times less per acre for their income producing property. And they own more than 1700 additional acres of land with the timber exemption.
Another example: Edward Boettcher Jr. from Brenham owns one sixth of a 367-acre parcel on the West Fork also used for sand mining. He received a timber exemption on his property which reduced the LSC taxable value by 96%. That meant he paid a total of $11.28 to the Lone Star College District for his 61-acre share of the income-producing property. He paid $0.18/acre – 1878 times less than I paid.
Vacant Land That’s Not
And what about that land classified as “Vacant”? RGI Materials owes Lone Star $296.27 on 134.6 acres of land, or $2.20/acre – 154 times less than I paid as an individual on non-income producing land.
The 53 different parcels of land examined in September received 10 different types of classifications even though they were all being used for the same purpose – sand mining. Only one parcel was classified as commercial and only two were classified as industrial. The vast majority were classified as vacant rural land or timberland. After calling these inconsistencies to the attention of the Montgomery County Appraisal District almost two months ago, it appears that little or nothing has changed. Spot checks failed to turn up any reclassifications. Vast differences and inconsistencies remain…even among sand mines.
By the way, the state comptroller’s office says, and I quote, “Sand mines should be classified as sand mines.” That means they should be valued according to their income producing potential. It doesn’t appear that Montgomery County appraises them that way; the values rarely change from year to year – not what you would expect from depleting assets.
Season for Sharing
Yes, ’tis the season for sharing. And those generous sand miners are sharing their tax obligation with you through dubious exemptions, mis-classifications, and valuations that have nothing to do with the income-producing value of the land.
Someone has to make up the difference in the Lone Star College System budget and luckily (for the sand miners), that’s you and me.
These appraisals and tax bills illustrate how we’re all connected. It also underscores the need for consistent appraisals and state oversight of appraisal districts.
Luckily for residents of Harris County, only the Lone Star College portion of tax bills is affected. Residents of Montgomery County, however, take the full hit; all portions of those tax bills are affected.
These are my opinions on matters of public policy, protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/18/2018
447 Days since Hurricane Harvey
PS: I should add that the Lone Star College System has nothing to do with appraisals or exemptions.