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Winter Texans warns county ‘not to kill the golden egg’

Hidalgo-County-SealA Winter Texan drove 1,600 miles to the Valley this week to protest his property appraisal and warn Hidalgo County officials that doubling and tripling property values may cause him and others to reconsider wintering in the Rio Grande Valley.

At Monday’s commissioners court meeting, Dale Miller said the financial impact of Winter Texans on the Rio Grande Valley is a big asset to Hidalgo County and the Hidalgo County Appraisal District should not tax Winter Texan property so heavily or they might put an end to something that is good for the county.

Miller, who lives in Ohio, said he also was speaking on behalf of others who were unable to return. Miller resides in Paradise Park in McAllen. People there pay a fee to rent their lots for as long as they stay and own only the personal property left on the property. Ownership of the land remains with the corporation. Yet people who bought property leases with older model mobile homes on them were being taxed as if they owned the land as well.

Miller cited his 1977 mobile home, which was valued by National Auto Dealers Association (NADA), an organization that rates the values of used cars, boats, mobile homes and motorcycles, as being worth $6,840.83. The mobile home is 37 years old.

In 2014 the Hidalgo Count Appraisal District valued the 37-year-old mobile home at $17,000, a $9,000 increase. Miller only paid $5,000 for it when he purchased it. He did pay $20,000 for the use of the lot, which he says is not taxable because it is owned by the corporation, not him.

Concerned with the large increase in value for such an old mobile home, Miller called the Appraisal District, and staff offered to drop $3,000 off the evaluation. Miller called the offer “teasing” in an attempt to appease property owners over the higher tax rates. He refused to accept the evaluation. He was told that to protest he would have to send eight copies of all the paperwork showing the value of the property.

Instead of sending paperwork, Miller appeared in person and was able to get his tax value down to $8,900. But many people cannot return to fight tax appraisals, which are done in summer while most Winter Texans are up north, he said.

When he met with the appraisal board, Miller was told they had several comparables, including a property in Paradise Park valued at $23,000, which members of the Appraisal District Board said had been verified.

Miller checked the more expensive property out and found it had an older mobile home that sold for $2,500 while the transfer of the property lease went for $20,500. Miller said if the Appraisal District is charging residents for the cost of their leases along with the cost of their personal property, it is double taxation because they do not own the land. He called the actions of the Hidalgo County Appraisal District a “Kangaroo Court” because there were eight people present, including him, and he was the only one who had seen his property or knew its true value.

Other parks where Winter Texans have left personal property may also be having similar problems. If the problem is not addressed, Miller said the Hidalgo County Appraisal District had a good chance of destroying the best industry the county has.

Miller said winter residents had to pay school taxes even though they had no children. At the same time people who live here and have children can claim homestead exemptions and lower their taxes while Winter Texans are getting tax bills that double and triple the appraised value of their property.

Miller said Winter Texans who want to protest have to pay $20 for information and provide eight copies of the documents to the district. Documents include appraisals, bills of sale and other information. Or they can hire an attorney at a great cost and go through arbitration. It costs a minimum of $500 to start arbitration, according to Miller.

Renewal stickers

In other action, the court approved seven agents from the Fred Loya Insurance Corporation to act as limited-service deputies for the county with authorization to act as agents for the issuance of Motor Vehicle License renewal stickers. Tax collector Paul Villarreal told commissioners that due to a new law going into effect May 15, 2015, vehicle owners would have to show proof of passing vehicle inspections before they can get their license plate renewal stickers. Villarreal said this added step would add greatly to the workload of his staff because there are 550,000 registered vehicles in Hidalgo County.

In an effort to cut down on expenses, he was setting up license renewal stations in Fred Loya Insurance Companies in Donna, Elsa, McAllen, Mission, La Joya and San Juan. These stations are in addition to the ones already located in H-E-B’s across the county.

OWL (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) Fern McClaugherty questioned whether Fred Loya was not trying to become an agent so it could sell insurance to those who do not have insurance, which is a requirement in order to get the license renewal. She pointed out Fred Loya can sell policies by the month and it could be a lucrative addition to their business to be able to draw people who need to buy a month’s worth of insurance into their company because they could also get the license renewal at the same location.

According to the new policy, vehicle owners will start getting letters after May 15, 2015, telling them they must have an inspection on their vehicle before renewing their licenses. The cost of the inspection now is $14. Of that, $7 goes to the company inspecting the vehicles and the other $7 goes to the Department of Public Safety.

Asked if the new process would add to the cost of inspection, Villarreal suggested costs would increase but the final cost had not been settled.

Currently, for a fee, people can mail their registration to the county and not have to go into the office. Villarreal could not say whether this policy would be continued if people sent a copy of the inspection receipt with their payment or whether everyone would be required to go in person to one of the specified locations to pay the vehicle registration tax.

Following discussion of the sanitation concerns for the county, the court approved the use of sanitation station permits at $8.33 per month. The county had been considering uniform pick-up of garbage in the past few months. However, discussion generated from residents of some colonias made the court reconsider the cost after residents stated a fee of up to $27 per month would be too much for many of the poorest residents who live in Hidalgo County. Commissioners have met with residents from several colonias and decided to approve use of sanitary waste collection stations, where garbage could be delivered by the residents for less than the cost of mandatory pickup services. The residents who use the sanitary waste delivery system will pay $8.33 per month to deliver their own waste to any one of 13 county-owned dump sites. The system will start in three to four months. The Commissioners are still looking at other pick-up service for county residents who can afford it.

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