Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of stories that will explore the effects of the recent draining of Lake Dunlap.
Ryan “Rhino” Haecker has lived along the shores of Lake Dunlap for most of his life, but just because his house is no longer waterfront property doesn’t mean he won’t still be paying waterfront property priced taxes.
“I hope the city or state realizes that, if we’re not getting that, they should devalue the property values, lower the taxes, because they’re ridiculous,” Haecker said.
As a hunting and fishing tour guide, Haecker is one of the many Guadalupe County residents who has made his life on the shores of Lake Dunlap, and has paid the waterfront property sized taxes that go with doing so. The loss of the lake after the failure of the Lake Dunlap Dam last Tuesday morning won’t change that.
“Now I’ve talked to the appraisal district and as far as I understand right now, nothing will be adjusted,” said Daryl John, Guadalupe County Tax Assessor-Collector. “Unless somebody or a group of people start selling their homes at a reduced price because there is no water, I don’t see it changing much going forward.”
In other words, at this time, Lake Dunlap’s waterfront property will remain “waterfront property” in the appraisal district’s eyes, despite the loss of the lake, John said.
“Now my opinion, my personal opinion is that you should get what you pay for, so if you don’t have waterfront, I don’t think you should be paying for waterfront,” John said. “That’s just the way I feel about it, and I would hope that the appraisal district involved here can come to some understandings with those home owners at least in the interim until it gets fixed.”
The tax assessor-collector doesn’t appraise property. That is done by the appraisal district, which isn’t a part of county government, John said.
Replacing the gates on the dam that failed on could involve two or three years of work, GBRA officials said last week — and that’s if they can secure the $15-$35 million necessary to pay for it.
“I think they bought that because it was waterfront property and they pay more taxes, because their values are higher for being waterfront,” John said. “But I think the fair thing to do would be to make an adjustment in the meantime, and then when it comes back, you get it back.”
John said without sales along the lake, that’s unlikely to happen.
“The appraisal district is going to have a hard time getting everybody happy out there and treating them fairly is the best outcome,” John said.
From the tax office standpoint, calculations for the jurisdictions rates are based off of the appraised values, John said.
“So, at the end of July when we get those values from the appraisal district and we do our calculations, we recommend a certain rate for those jurisdictions to make sure that they can balance their budgets,” John said. “The thing that the entities are going to look to me for, and any tax office, is that money.”
For those taxing entities like cities, counties and school districts, the wheels are already in motion.
“We’re in the middle of the year, we’ve already made those kinds of calculations and told those entities how much money they’re going to be getting,” John said. “It’s tough to do it in the middle of the year like that, because it’s not a natural disaster or a tragedy or a hurricane, it’s just something unfortunate, an old dam that broke.”
As for the likelihood of people selling — many are actually taking their homes off the market, said Hunter Croan, a realtor with the Lakefront Group of Keller Williams Realty.
“There’s just so many questions right now and not any answers, so if you do put (a home) for sale, there’s a bunch of questions, and you don’t have answers and timelines and it’s — what buyer is going to want to buy into that?” Croan said. “As soon as we have timelines, I think buyers are going to be more comfortable and sellers are going to be more comfortable, but sellers are not in a frantic, ‘I need to get out’ situation.”
This likely means property values and the accompanying taxes associated will hold.
“We keep paying more and more and it’s getting ridiculous,” Haecker said. “I’m afraid to build on one of the lots because I know as soon as I build a house, it’ll be appraised for four times what I built it for.”
If the amount of money that comes from property taxes decreases for those who are on the lake, it could mean taxes could climb in other places, John said.
“Going into next year’s tax season, depending on what the appraisal district does, the only recourse that the entities have if the values come down is to raise their rates, because they can’t do without their money,” John said.
One way or another, the government entities are going to have to get the amount of money they need to balance their budgets, he said.
“The money has to be there for them to run their school, their city, their county, their road district, so they can’t just do without it, that’s just unfortunate,” John said.