Booming Montgomery County taxes draw allegations of gouging, 'sweetheart deals'

Like hundreds of thousands of Texans, Dennis Hudgens believes he's taking a beating this year on his property taxes, and the numbers sure appear to back him up.

"How can you even justify this. It's not like they don't come out here and look every year," said Hudgens who lives on a dirt road Montgomery County has yet to pave.

Montgomery County appraisers valued Hudgens' modest Willis home at more than $93 a square foot, raising his taxes the maximum 10 percent allowed by law.

Painful yes, but nothing compared to the county appraisal of his three unimproved, wooded lots which rose nearly 800 percent in a single year.

"There's no way you can justify, an 800 percent increase on raw land and a 50 percent increase on a residential home," said Hudgens.

It's the kind of tax bill "sticker shock" that's angered local homeowners who've discovered far less onerous appraisals for other Montgomery County residents.

A prime example is a luxurious country estate built on 31 acres a year ago. It's listed for sale on the HARS website for $2.95 million, but according to Montgomery County tax assessors is only worth $405,000 on the tax rolls.

"It is definitely a sweetheart deal. There is no other way to explain it," said attorney Eric Yollick.

Yollick says Montgomery County valued the luxury home nearly $25 dollars per square foot less than Dennis Hudgens house in Willis.

A stark example of what he describes as gross unfairness and potential favoritism.

"What I've seen, especially this year, is the Appraisal District seems to be targeting some of the poorer areas of Montgomery County - like East Montgomery County, like the Willis area and those are generally people who have less ability to protest their taxes," said Yollick.

Turns out that country estate on the market for $2.95 million is owned by State Representative Will Metcalf.
In a statement, Metcalf says the taxable value of the property is substantially lower because he runs cattle on the land and qualifies for an agricultural exemption.

He also claims the county's appraisal of his home's taxable value is comparable to other houses in the area.

Over in Willis, Dennis Hudgens just wishes he could somehow get the same deal.

Rep. Metcalf’s complete statement:

"I rely on the county to determine my property taxes.  I did not asked for nor did I receive different treatment than anyone else. Even more importantly, there is a clear evidence that my house was treated just the same as all others.

"To determine this fact with certainty after the first unfounded accusations were made, I hired an independent firm to research how my appraisal was done to see if it was any different than similar houses in the area.

"The first and most obvious reason the appraisal is what it is that the house is built adjacent to agricultural land and THAT agricultural land (owned by separate entity) is not part of the house appraisal but IS included in the property for sale. Cattle are raised on the agricultural land and so that property is taxed differently than residential, but this agricultural land is taxed the same as all other agricultural land in Texas.

"The listed sales price for my house includes both my house AND the adjacent agricultural land (even though it is held by a separate entity) because that is how we felt we could get the best sales price -- selling it as a combined package.

"But even beyond that issue, I asked the independent firm to compare my house's appraisal, itself, to other similar houses in the area. I have included those comps for you.  As you can clearly see, my property falls right in the middle of the pack -- not at the low end nor at the high end.
The process used to appraise my property seems to have followed best practices and was the same as for other homeowners.

"Taking into consideration the homestead exemption, agriculture exemption and the independent tax firm analysis, the appraisal district is treating my property like all other properties in the abstract or county."