Roughly 70 residents crowded in to the Palo Pinto Appraisal District this week to protest skyrocketing appraisals and property values.

PALO PINTO — The downside to growth and prosperity showed up Wednesday in Palo Pinto when some 60 upset taxpayers stormed the entity that sets the property values on which annual taxes are based.

Hearings had been scheduled that morning for an arm of the Palo Pinto County Appraisal District to listen to property owner protests of individual values. Those property owners did not show up for their hearings, which freed the Appraisal Review Board to let the unannounced taxpayers air their grievances.

“You’re killing people’s lives,” Mingus resident and city alderman Vinny Huckaba said, acknowledging influxes of new residents and expensive homes. “But what about the people who have lived here for generations?”

Huckaba, whose family dates to the 1880s in the county, said the district’s estimate of his 2022 tax bill, on 0.15 acre, has shot up from $900 in recent years to $3,600.

Much of the session featured members of the five-member panel explaining that appraisal districts do not set tax rates, just the property values on which school boards, city councils and other governments base their rate when drawing up their annual budgets.

“You need to go to the school board, you need to go to the hospital district,” Chairman Ron Daly told the protesters. “We’re not a taxing entity. We need busloads, planeloads, to go to Austin and get this changed.”

Texas Rep. Glenn Rogers, R-Graford, and the challenger he faces in a May 24 GOP primary runoff, Mike Olcott, did not respond to emails this week seeking comment.

County appraisal districts were established in 1979 with a goal of taking politics and local influence out of property value appraisals. Before then, property values could vary widely in comparable neighborhoods — even between what the school said a home is worth and what the city said it’s worth.

But appraisal districts have posed their own challenges, not the least of which is people rarely know what they are or what they do. Officials in courthouses across the state are perennially telling callers their county appraisal district is not part of county government.

Appraisal districts feel pressure from higher up. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts issues each one an annual grade, called a study, based on how close appraisals come to market value based on sale prices in the neighborhood.

“If there were comparable sales, I mean, that’s what we’ve got to go by,” board member Mitchell Ragle told the group, later saying he has filed a protest of his own property value.

Richard Nickols said the comptroller recently required the district to raise property values in Mineral Wells and Santo.

“Two years ago, we failed our study,” he said.

The comptroller can even take over an appraisal district that consistently assigns values below or above market value.

“See how you’ll like it when Austin comes in to run it,” Nickols told the protesters.

The comptroller’s benchmark is revealed in the prices that similar properties bring, called comparable sales.

And with home sellers able to command high prices in a shortage market, those prices have mushroomed — and so have the value on which the tax levy is set by local governments.

“Everyone knows market values are skyrocketing across Texas,” Nickols told the 32 people allowed in the small hearing room while others waited in the lobby. “I feel for everyone, because I’m the same way.”

After the meeting broke up, Nickols discussed a tax issue that will affect next year’s agriculture exemptions. Another appraisal district panel, the agriculture advisory board, has recommended increasing the acreage needed to qualify for the popular tax break in the 2023 tax year.

Appraisal Review Board members are appointed to three-year terms by the county judge.

“Anybody in the public who wants this seat, I welcome them,” said Daly, who like other board members had been sympathetic to the residents’ plight.