Weatherford Democrat

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June 27, 2012

Appeals court: Tax case can be heard in district court

PARKER COUNTY — A group of more than a dozen homeowners suing the Parker County Appraisal District and the cities of Aledo and Willow Park for retroactively billing them for five years of city taxes won a victory in appeals court last week, allowing their case to continue in district court.

Reversing an order by 43rd District Judge Trey Loftin nearly a year ago, a three-judge panel for the Texas Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth found that the homeowners’ case could be heard in Parker County district court.

The case has been in the court system since the homeowners filed a counterclaim against the government entities in October 2010. The City of Willow Park had filed a suit in March 2010 attempting to collect property taxes from homeowners Todd Brennan and Valerie Smith that the city claimed were delinquent.

The owners of 13 properties, 10 located in Aledo and three in Willow Park, joined the lawsuit against the City of Willow Park, the City of Aledo, the Parker County Appraisal District, the appraisal review board and Chief Appraiser Larry Hammonds.

In 2008, the owners of the properties, all in Willow Park Village, Stone Bluff of Aledo and Fairview Addition, received bills for city taxes for 2003 to 2007.

In October 2008, the appraisal district sent bills to the property owners stating that the properties had been “omitted” from the appraisal rolls for the past five years and stating that the total for the previous years was due upon receipt.

About $300,000 in back taxes was reportedly requested from about 300 property owners in the three subdivisions and most of those bills have been paid, the Democrat was told last year.

However, the taxpayers allege the city taxes for those properties were assessed in violation of the state tax code, though attorneys for the cities and appraisal district have said the law was followed.

The cities were not valid taxing units during those years because they didn’t notify the appraisal district that their boundaries had expanded to include the three subdivisions and the cities failed to challenge the district’s records each year, the homeowners argue.

They are also alleging Hammonds improperly sent the bills two months before the appraisal review board added the records to the appraisal roll for the district.

Attorney Joshua Carden, representing the taxpayers, told the Democrat last year that other property owners in the same subdivision, owners who had since sold their property, were not being asked to pay back taxes for those years.

Carden called that a violation of equal protection laws.

The homeowners are requesting the assessment be voided and any paid back taxes be refunded.

In a July 2011 order, Loftin found that the district court had no authority to hear the case.

A request to certify the case as a class action lawsuit was not decided last year after the district court ruling.

However, the appeals court’s ruling Friday found that the district court did have jurisdiction over the issue, sent the case back to district court to proceed and ordered the appraisal district and cities pay the cost of the appeal.

Calls to attorneys Barbara Williams, representing the cities, and Judith Hargrove, representing the appraisal district, were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

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