Friday, November 6, 2009

I Fought the Law

I am proud to be an American.

I know it's got to sound geeky when I announce that after having just returned from a Formal Property Tax Protest Hearing at the Travis County Appraisal District, but that's just the way it is.

On a day when I have my list of Americans (including Rush Limbaugh, Joe Lieberman and Glenn Beck, just to name this week's top three) who make it difficult to find these feelings, it comes as a welcome relief.

With so much inane and destructive rhetoric coming from the right over the government's proposed health care reform, some might conclude that the three above named individuals no longer want to live in a country where their government is in control. As in, the American government. As in, 'I pledge allegiance to...'

Well, I've just come from a situation where my government, the American government is in control--I lost the hearing--but I in no way feel that I am being oppressed by it. Quite the opposite, actually. I am, as we liberals say, empowered.

I scheduled the Protest Hearing back in March, when we got a bill from our mortgage company for unpaid taxes. Since the money for taxes comes from an escrow account that we pay into monthly, we should never have a shortfall. Yet, when our taxes increased nearly 35%--in the middle of the Bush regime's skillful management of the trickle down theory of economics, by the way--we were caught without enough money in the escrow account.

In the goverment, they call this deficit spending. In real life, we call it you-owe-us-two-grand-so-we-are-charging-you-more-every-month spending, and believe it or not, nothing trickled down to save us. So, because we have no printing press in the basement (or even a basement) we have to pay more every month for a year to make up for the shortfall.

Hence the protest.

I went early, thinking I'd get caught in traffic, but I sailed right up I-35 to the Travis County Appraisal District building in far North Austin. I went in about a half an hour early and was directed to check in. There were a few people waiting in the hall, but not the crowd I was expecting. They asked my name and asked me to wait.

I hardly waited five minutes. Now, those loud complainers like Beck, for example, who claim that the government is not capable of serving it's citizens in a timely and organized manner just haven't been to one of these hearings. Or to vote, I suspect. Perhaps his last contact with the government was at the impound lot (he did have some sort of surgery, you know, 'down there'), but mine was in a government building. They came to get me early.

By 10:40 I was seated in a room with four individuals. There were three 'citizen judges' and a representative from the TAD. The center judge was an older man, and to his right was a middle aged woman and another man was on his left. The older man explained the process.

I would be given the opportunity to explain why my taxes should be changed, while the TAD's position would be taken by their representative. It would be a formal hearing, recorded and under oath. I raised my right hand and we got started.

The TAD had a simple position. They maintained that their number was right. The fellow said so and turned it over to me.

I had two points. First, I maintained that our taxes had unfairly jumped from 2007 to 2008. Second, I maintained that our house was unfairly valued as compared with our neighbors.

This information is public and available on the internet, so I downloaded it and created a spreadsheet as one of my exhibits. Other exhibits were tax records and photographs of the other houses and our house in '07 and '08 to prove that it hadn't changed substantially.

Well, I had my day in court, but they ruled against me.

In the first case, our jump in taxes had to do with our Homestead Exemption (another story) and it took place last year so we couldn't address it today, which was looking at 2009.

And on my second point, using real-time data--which I could see on a screen in front of me--they patiently showed me how our house is actually valued like others in our neighborhood--almost exactly down to the penny.

It was a good example of how, in America, transparency in government can and does happen. Giving citizens the right to have information about how they are being taxed is the way we work. In the end, I have to pay the taxes--just as I will have to die--but I don't begrudge the government any more than I do the Reaper.

I have to say, though, Death isn't nearly as polite nor as helpful as the citizens who served on that panel. They were most gracious and took all the time needed to make sure I understood and was comfortable with their decision. Then down came the gavel and I was shown out.

But not before the older judge took me downstairs to see if we could do something about the Homestead exemption. He took me to the right person and introduced me before leaving me to sort it out with her. It didn't change anything, but it did demonstrate the humanity of the process.

Like I said. I am proud to be an American.


phunkster2001 said...

I appreciate your satisfaction with the process and the governmental entities which you dealt during the process. Your gratitude for being able to take part in the process, even though you came up the 'losing' side if you will, is admirable. The point that many disgruntled people on the right usually miss is, though we may not like the outcome, the government provides us with formidable & procedurally fair process which we may advocate our position and attempt to alter the outcome. That in and of itself is 'winning', even if you are on the losing side.

Imagine if the tax assessing board was a private corporation? Do you think you would have even had an opportunity for a protest hearing!?

bc said...

Names like Limbaugh, Beck, how could you leave off Hannity??