Weatherford Democrat

February 20, 2013

Tax case appears headed back to county


Weatherford Democrat

— By CHRISTIN COYNE



A tax case involving the cities of Willow Park and Aledo, and perhaps as many as 250 taxpayers if certified as a class action suit, could be headed back to district court in Parker County after a year and a half spent in appeals.

On Friday the Texas Supreme Court declined to revisit a decision by the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth that would allow the case to be heard in district court, according to attorney Joshua Carden, who is representing the involved taxpayers.

Thirteen property owners in two subdivisions, Willow Park Village and Stone Bluff of Aledo, are suing the cities of Willow Park and Aledo, the Parker County Appraisal District, the Parker County Appraisal Review Board and Larry Hammonds in his role as Parker County tax assessor-collector, alleging they were illegally taxed.

Then 43rd District Judge Trey Loftin ruled in July 2011 that the district court had no authority to hear the case, an order the property owners appealed.

After the court of appeals decision in August 2012 finding that district court could hear the taxpayers’ lawsuit, the cities and appraisal district appealed that decision to the Texas Supreme Court. 

Because the Texas Supreme Court declined to address the court of appeals ruling, Carden said he expects the Second Court of Appeals to issue a mandate sending the case back to district court in Parker County.

One of the next issues he expects the court to take up is whether to certify the lawsuit as a class-action, allowing the entire group of affected taxpayers to join the legal battle.

The issues involve tax bills taxpayers received for tax years dating from 2003 to 2007.

In October 2008, Hammonds 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.

Many of the affected residents paid the tax bills, according to Carden.

However, when Willow Park filed a collection suit in 2010 against Todd Brennan and Valerie Smith, residents of Willow Park Village, 13 homeowners filed a counterclaim against the government entities.

The property owners say their taxes were assessed illegally, in violation of procedures specified by the Texas Tax Code.

The cities had no authority to tax the properties during those years because they didn’t notify the appraisal district that their boundaries had expanded to include the subdivisions and the cities failed to challenge the district’s records each year, the homeowners argue.

They are also alleging Hammonds, who also serves as assessor-collector, improperly sent the bills two months before the appraisal review board added the records to the appraisal roll for the district.

Attorneys for the cities and appraisal district dispute the homeowners’ claims.

The attorney for Hammonds told the Democrat Hammonds’ actions were within the bounds of the tax code.

The City of Aledo has also argued they should not be a party to the lawsuit because they have immunity in the circumstances.

Not counting penalties or interest, the total amount of taxes at stake totals to more than $231,000; some property owners have bills as low as $700, others have bills as high as $12,500, according to Carden.

The situation is an unusual circumstance because the positions of chief appraiser and assessor-collector are filled by one person wearing two hats in Parker County, according to Carden, adding that it would be rare for the tax assessor to go back and change anything in a county such as Tarrant, where different offices handle the responsibilities.