Bexar Appraisal District officials are urging property owners to protest their appraisals using an online services portal, where the entire process can be handled, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. People can also email or mail in protests to set up an informal meeting with an appraisal district staff member.
Officials are trying to lessen the tens of thousands of property owners who walk through the appraisal district's doors on North Frio Street this time of year.
"Absolutely, I would be in violation of no large gatherings if I had a normal day in my office" Bexar Chief Appraiser Michael Amezquita said.
Most property owners have until June 29 to file their protests.
Amezquita said between 1,000 to 1,500 property owners typically arrive at the appraisal district every weekday from June to September, sometimes through October.
Appraisal district officials, including its board of directors chaired by District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, haven't determined when the offices will reopen to the public for formal hearings before an appraisal review board. On Monday, Amezquita and his staff are meeting with Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger to assess whether the coronavirus protective measures currently in place for employees are suitable for the public.
Amezquita said property owners' right to protest will be maintained. He said the office may open for appraisal review board hearings in mid-July, although it may be after Aug. 1. After doors reopen, people won't be allowed to enter without a scheduled appointment, he said.
The appraisal district is currently taking temperatures and requiring face masks from its employees. Similar measures will be strongly recommended for the public. They'll space out time slots to meet occupancy limitations city health officials recommend. During an appraisal review board hearing, appraisers will not be in the room, but will video conference via Zoom or another platform.
So far, three appraisal review board members have resigned as precaution against contracting the coronavirus during the protest process, Amezquita said. The board members, roughly 50 serving three to a group, tend to be in the age range most vulnerable to Covid-19, he said.
In late April, the district distributed 58,000 appraisals mostly to commercial owners. On May 29, roughly 550,000 primarily residential notices were mailed.
If someone has to come in for a review board meeting, he suggests property owners limit their visit to 1-2 people.
"You'd be surprised how many people bring the entire family to the protest hearing," he said.
Amezquita has said he expects property values to increase in Bexar County by an average of 7% to 8%, thus increasing the amount of taxes owned.
In March, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in San Antonio, the Texas Association of Appraisal Districts requested a property value freeze from Gov. Greg Abbott as a form of tax relief. The request was soon followed by another from San Antonio officials, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Judge Nelson Wolff, and other municipalities across the state. In May, Abbott told KSAT 12 he would not roll over property values.
"What he failed to understand ... this was never about property tax relief," Amezquita said. "It was about, it was irresponsible, it seems callous, to send out these notices considering the economic situation people are in."