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Developers getting big property tax break for "agriculture" and "wildlife management"

Developers getting big property tax break for "agriculture" and "wildlife management"
Developers getting big property tax break for "agriculture" and "wildlife management"
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Many of us just received that painful notice from the Bexar County Appraiser. Our home value went up and that means another increase to our property taxes.

News Four Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila's investigation found developers who own high priced real estate all over town have figured out a way to get a big break on their property taxes.

Many Texans have livestock on their property or do some kind of farming and they get an agricultural exemption: a discount on property taxes. But when you see the huge tax breaks some developers are getting, you'll wonder if it's really agriculture, or just bull.

Danielle Cunningham is one of many homeowners upset property tax bills keep going up every year.

“Nothing's changed, why does the property value increase so much so fast,” asks Cunningham.

That’s not the case for everyone. Take for example a prime piece of property right on the HWY 281 North Access Road at 1604. Nine acres are already being advertised for development.

There does not appear to be any cows or crops out there. It looks like a big overgrown field, but the property owner got a big tax break for Wildlife Management.

Initially the appraisal district denied the ag exemption, but the owner M2G Ventana Ltd, also listed as Milam Real Estate Capital, agreed to put out water and food for birds and squirrels and periodically count the birds.

That was enough. Its 2016 appraisal value dropped by more than two-thirds, from $1.7 million down to $523,000.

Milam Real Estate Capital's managing director told us someone would call us back with a comment, but so far we haven't heard back.

That's not the only example. We obtained a list of 85 properties that were initially denied an agricultural exemption last year, but the owners appealed, were given the exemption, and only paid a fraction of what their taxes would have been.

Two properties on the Northwest side off of Galm Road were valued by the appraisal district at $1.4 million last year. The developer fought to get an ag exemption and that lowered the property value down to $1,300 for both pieces of property. They ended up paying $32 in property taxes.

The owner at the time was the 4GB-1 LLC, the Grothues family which owns MG Building Materials. President Larry Grothues did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

Earlier this year the property was sold to New Leaf Homes.

We want to make it clear these developers didn't break the law, they're taking advantage of what the Bexar Appraisal District allows them to do.

Chief Appraiser Michael Amezquita says the legislature sets the requirements for getting an ag exemption.

“The appraisal district has a duty to approve those accounts irrespective of how we feel about it. So you know we may suspect that it’s less than ag but the fact of the matter is, if it meets the requirements of law, we’re going to approve it,” says Amezquita.

If a developer changes the use of the land, there is what is called a “rollback”. They must pay back the tax savings they received plus seven percent interest for the previous five years. But, of course, the appraisal district has to be aware of the change and developers who have owned the land longer than five years still come out ahead.

“It certainly is a detriment to every other tax payer that doesn't have that same benefit," explains Amezquita.

“Small people don't have a voice anymore," says Cunningham.

So why doesn't the legislature crack down on this? Because it's going the other direction. Several bills still active in Austin would expand the agricultural exemption and eliminate the interest on those rollback payments.

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Next we'll be asking your legislators about this issue and let you know what they say.

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