Call it what you will—coincidence, irony, or fate—that a person with the surname of “Raven” would have the unglamorous position of determining the assessed taxable value of real property for some hundred thousand property owners within the county.
Culturally and in literature, the raven is often used to symbolize death or foreboding. It is seen as an evil omen of terrible misfortunes to come. In nature, the raven is a clever, aggressive scavenger that feeds on small, deceased animals or steals eggs from other birds’ nests.
Miss Laura Raven, the Hays County Appraisal District Chief Appraiser, seems to be aptly named.
After arguably the most difficult year of our collective lives—in which tens of thousands of us lost our jobs, had our hours cut, and/or our businesses shuttered; many of us falling behind on our bills and our mortgage payments. We lost friends, family, our own health, and our minds to a virus we still do not fully understand.
Compounding the turmoil of the pandemic was Winter Storm Uri that left us all in the freezing dark and without water for several days to a few weeks.
We were just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And then, a most ominous sign: the tunnel caved in. And a merciless Raven swooped down to pick our bones dry.
The CAD will be the very first to tell anyone that will listen that they are not responsible for property taxes. They only “determine property value.” However, that property value determines our tax liability. So, when the “property value” increases, so does our tax liability, even if the tax rate remains the same.
Of course, state law limits the amount the assessed value can increase by year to year to 10% (for those with Homestead Exemption). In practice, this offers little relief to homeowners. A $250,000 house’s assessed value will increase by $25,000 its first year, then $27,500 the next year, then $30,250 the next, and so on until you can no longer afford the taxes on your home and you must sell it at a loss because any equity you had was prematurely paid to the county through property taxes.
There is, however, no state law that requires the assessed value to increase each year. If she wanted to, Miss Raven could leave existing home values the same as the previous year.
The Chief Appraiser knows this. The CAD Board of Directors—who appointed Miss Raven to her post, and all have a vested interest in increasing tax revenue—know this. And still, they make the conscious and deliberate choice to increase appraisals—thereby increasing property taxes—every single year without fail, knowing full well the detrimental economic impact it will have on countless families.
We all know that nothing is certain except death and taxes. Never has this been felt so poignantly.