Texas Law Change Would Allow Reappraisals After Disaster

June 4, 2013

Hundreds of property owners whose homes and businesses were damaged by the earth-rattling fertilizer plant explosion that devastated the town of West in April may catch a break on their property taxes under recently approved legislation.

A bill awaiting Gov. Rick Perry’s signature would tweak existing law to permit reappraisal of property values following disasters. The Waco Tribune-Herald reports that current law makes that exception only for “natural disasters.”

Norman Lenburg/FEMA
Norman Lenburg/FEMA

That could help homeowners such as Jon and Sharon Hlavenka whose home is littered with glass and drywall and where a beam fell across their living room and the roof opens to the sky. Without the change they’d be expected to pay $3,500 in property taxes on their wrecked home.

They will protest their value and it’s a process Jon Hlavenka knows well since he works for the appraisal district. About 250 West residents already have filed notification with the McLennan County Appraisal District protesting their property values.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “That’s money we can use for the deductible for building a new house.”

West Mayor Tommy Muska says the city council will decide July 2 whether to request a reappraisal. He will recommend approval.

“I could see the city losing revenue because of that. But on the other hand, citizens need help,” said Muska, whose house was damaged. “We can make it. We’ll have to do like everyone else and cut down on anything we have to cut.”

The April 17 blast at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 people and injured about 200. Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged in the blast zone. State and federal investigators declared the cause of the fire that set off the ammonium nitrate there officially “undetermined.”

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, proposed the amendment that strikes “natural” from in front of “disaster” in the current law.

“This logical update to the code helps not only the people of West but all Texans in the event of future disasters,” Birdwell said in an email.

A member of Birdwell’s staff said Perry has until June 6 to sign the bill. Once signed, each entity would have to decide whether to order a reappraisal, which would then allow the property owner’s tax bill to be prorated with the new value.

McLennan County Appraisal District chief appraiser Andrew Hahn estimated that West lost more than 20 percent of its tax base in the blast.

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