You can’t read it in the Huntsville Item, but you can read it here: George Russell fights back against the Walker County Appraisal District, which he accuses of jacking up his property values as punishment for decades of speaking truth to power.
But why was this letter, with more facts and less personalized snark, the last straw? The Big Mashugana says the Item rejected it (and all future letters) under pressure of the Movers and Shakers, some of whom — like City Councilman Don Johnson — have already been influential in pulling thousands of dollars of advertising from the Item when an editorial decision did not go their way. (Remember the banner headline article on the arrest of HMH marketing director and “Baby CEO” Calli Dretke on felony charges of intoxicated assault of a police officer?)
You also remember that under Publisher Rex Maynor and Editor Jay Ermis many citizens who held views in opposition to the Establishment had their letters shit-canned or hopelessly mangled when finally printed on the Item’s “Opinion” Page.
Things got more First Amendment-like under Dennis Garrison and Amy Lee, with Lisa Trow as editor, but the Item’s parent company sent both publishers packing, rumor has it, when Item revenue was not up to snuff.
Current Publisher Rita Haldeman, the third in four years, at first agreed to keep running George’s letters, but only after they had been sanitized of nastiness and ranting that were, maybe in the Item’s view, beside George’s central point. Never mind that his letters met the paper’s policy guidelines, which, under Rita and new editor Tom Waddill, have become scrambled and capriciously enforced. Rita may have either taken a page out of Rex’s book — we’ll see what happens to letters by more temperate opposition writers — or she’s come to the conclusion that George is just bad for business as well as her career. In any case, if what George is saying is true, the WCAD plays a slippery but integral role in an unethical scheme to keep The Powers That Be in power in HTX.
— Fractal Bob
12 September 2014
To: Editor, Huntsville ITEM
HAS THE CAD GONE BERSERK?
County Auditor Patricia Allen is quoted in the 8 September 2014 ITEM as stating: “Even though the tax rate has gone down, we will collect more revenue this year.”
This is part of the smoke and mirrors game played by local officials who are under the gun for promoting specious projects and wasteful spending causing significant tax increases over the last few years.
There have recently been more than one ITEM story that would make the average citizen believe that the city and county are holding the line on or even lowering property taxes when in fact by artificially increasing property values well beyond reality, many citizens’ taxes are rising astronomically.
I recently returned from a CAD protest hearing to ask that the millionaires and billionaires be taxed at the same rate as the poor and middle class for the same kinds of land in the same neighborhoods.
Of course my request was met with deaf ears and the unanimous vote of the board was to keep the insane increases of up to 300% in one year the same and to continue to allow even more valuable properties owned by the ultra wealthy to be taxed at a much lower rate per acre or per square foot.
It wasn’t the increases that I was protesting but the lack of fairness and equality. I told the board that if the uber-rich would be assessed at the same rate as me, then there would not have been any protest from me at all.
My dear friend Rich Heiland asserts that investing in property in Elkins Lake is a sound investment because it holds its value, yet Elkins lots over the years have featured prominently in tax sales, and now an effort is underfoot to give some 38 lots away for free, even though they are allegedly worth between $2,000 and $4,000 each.
Back some years ago Rich lived in the Russellville “slums” in a former whorehouse at 1509 19th Street. Last year the CAD appraised the tiny hillside lot at $10,000, and we just received notice that it is now being taxed at a value of $20,000 compared to the CAD appraisal of Heiland’s Elkins Lake lot at $3,000.
I am not hereby attempting to make fun of Heiland’s assertions about property values holding their own at Elkins because they cannot possibly go much lower in value. My main focus is on the very real fact that the CAD has gone totally berserk in violating the very essence of Title 1 of the Texas Property Tax Code and seems to be targeting some of us who are obviously on some kind of “black list.”
We received notices that 12 of our rent house lots in “Russellville” suddenly increased in value from $142,000 or $11,833 each in 2013 to $277,000 or $23,083 each in 2014.
Our postage stamp sized lot at 1822 Avenue O suddenly skyrocketed from its 2013 CAD evaluation of $6,500 or 58 cents a square foot or $25,508 an acre which is about right to $20,000 or $1.75 a square foot or $76,420 an acre.
Mayor Mac’s lovely lot adjacent to the Raven’s Nest Golf Course was appraised at only fifty cents a foot or $17,030 an acre and the entire commercial city block surrounded by Avenue O, Avenue P and 14th and 15th Streets owned by another family member is being taxed based on a valuation of $26,666 an acre.
One of the most valuable undeveloped commercial acreages in Huntsville borders Normal Park on the west and three of our deed restricted rent houses on the east.
The tax-exempt TRA lot that was sold off from this same tract is fairly valued at $2.00 per square foot, whereas the remainder of the tract is valued at between $6,417 and $21,776 per acre depending on whether one chooses to believe that the large tract is only 4.18 acres or actually 14.18 acres.
Appraisals are supposed to be fair and not discriminate against unpopular citizens while rewarding popular citizens with appropriate appraisals. Last year we purchased an abandoned building on University Avenue. We had a terrible time locating any tenant at all due to its obsolescence as a former bank drive-through, and suddenly the CAD decided that it was worth far more than we had paid for it bidding in a nationwide auction and more than it was appraised at as a drive-through of the multi-billion dollar Bank of America.
It remained empty for several months while we searched for a tenant, but it was no longer considered viable as a bank, and so we finally found some nice people, who rented it for a karate studio, that can pay around $1,000 per month while the property taxes are $9,524!!! When we proved the actual value of the building to the CAD, the true facts were totally ignored, and we have had to resort to suing the CAD at considerable personal expense.
The Gibbs Shopping Center that borders our building we finally leased to a karate studio is assessed based on $32.38 per square foot for the buildings and $2.00 a square foot for the land, whereas our building is assessed for taxes based on $69.11 per square foot and the land at $2.50 a square foot.
Of course, we are not the only citizens whose taxes have skyrocketed for no legitimate reason other than the apparent fact that our city has so many millions of dollars in debt that to pay the debts off, taxes have been outrageously increased in an unfair arbitrary and capricious manner in egregious violation of the professional code of ethics that appraisers are supposed to be bound by.
And to add insult to injury, the School Board is once again attempting to concoct a scheme to pass a bond issue that will cause even more escalations in our property taxes.
Enough is enough, especially considering the fact that there is no such thing as private property ownership in America. When you have paid your mortgage off after 30 years of scrimping and saving, you still have to pay rent to the government for the right to live in your own home, or they will auction it off on the courthouse steps. Is this America or some Third World Communist Country where the State owns all property?
GEORGE H. RUSSELL