Brazos County's property values increased this year by more than $1 billion - a 14.5 percent increase - according to preliminary information released last week by the local appraisal district.
Increases also were reported in Bryan and College Station, where values rose 11 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Financial officers from the local governmental agencies say they'll use the preliminary information as they prepare this year's budgets to determine how much they can expect to receive in property taxes. After a series of budget hearings, each entity generally adopts its budget in September. The 2008 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Mary Landreth of the Brazos County Appraisal District said steady increases have been reported every year in recent history. The increases represent new construction and rising values on existing property, Landreth said.
"Basically, what we are trying to determine is the market value of a property, what it would sell for," she said. "Per recent history, values increase in the marketplace because of higher demand. It's not just in homes, but commercial properties and apartments, too."
More than 86,000 appraisal notices were mailed last week, and residents have until June 29 to protest if they disagree with the appraised value. The tax rolls will be certified at the end of July, Landreth said.
Brazos County Judge Randy Sims said Friday he was a little surprised to see Brazos County's taxable value has reached $9.5 billion. About $350 million of the increased value is from new construction, according to officials with the appraisal district.
Sims said that while the community's growth is "a blessing," he's now faced with the task of crafting a budget around the recently-released numbers.
"I've got my budget officer working on it now to help me get a handle on this so we can see how it's going to impact us," he said. "Whether we're going to raise taxes is going to depend on how much work we're going to be able to do. A lot of prices are going up in [the] road and bridge [department]. Anything having to do with oil and asphalt has almost doubled to tripled in price. And we're providing more and more services to the citizens, which requires additional staff."
Brazos County operates on a $101 million budget and a tax rate of 45.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation. That means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay about $455 in property taxes.
Since 2004, Brazos County has had a property tax freeze so that senior citizens do not pay more taxes each year, even if their home value increases.
A $75,000 homestead exemption is also offered to senior citizens who live in Brazos County. That means the owner of a $100,000 home pays taxes as if the home were valued at $25,000.
Taxable value within the Bryan city limits increased by about $331 million this year, to $3.2 billion, according to preliminary figures. Chief Financial Officer Kathy Davidson said there's nothing unusual about the rising numbers, which represent an 11 percent increase.
She said she expects changes will be made to the tax rolls after the protest period is complete.
"We always know the preliminary numbers are not definite, so we most likely will continue to budget for a 6 to 7 percent projected increase," she said. "We like having the preliminary information, but we recognize that it is just that - preliminary. After the appraisal review process, typically the amounts go down."
The increases in taxable value are coming in part from North Park Plaza, a new shopping center on Texas Avenue valued at about $2.9 million, the appraisal district's Landreth said. Other recent developments include the Hampton Hills apartment complex and Kroger store at Earl Rudder Freeway and Boonville Road.
"We base value on whatever state of construction was there on Jan. 1," Landreth said. "The Kroger is an example of something that wasn't complete the last time we did appraisals, but this year it's up to 100 percent.
"Of course, there's also a lot of new residential construction in both cities," she said. "There's a lot of construction out in [Bryan's golf and residential community] Traditions."
Bryan has a $260 million budget, and a property tax rate of 63.64 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
The city has a $15,000 tax exemption for senior citizens, and residents filed a petition last week asking that a tax freeze for seniors be placed on the November ballot.
Taxable value in College Station has risen by about $619 million since last year, which represents a 15 percent increase, according to preliminary figures. That brings the city's taxable value up to about $4.7 billion.
The city's chief financial officer, Jeff Kersten, said that's about what he expected.
"Last year when we got the preliminary number, we grew by about 14 percent," he said. "What will end up happening over the next few weeks, though, is we'll see the numbers get changed through the appeal process. We may see that number come down by about $100 million."
The preliminary figures, however, give the fiscal services staff "a starting point," Kersten said.
"This is a good first step in putting together the property tax portion of the budget," he said.
New taxable construction in College Station includes the $32 million Callaway Villas apartments and the $3.4 million Brazos Valley Bank building off Graham Road, Landreth said.
"There's also quite a bit of construction at [University Town Center] where PetSmart and Circuit City is, and there's all those new restaurants across from the Hilton," she said.
Kersten said he doesn't have a breakdown of how much of the value is based on new construction, but he knows that building permits representing $180 million in construction were issued in 2006.
"That's not an exact relationship, but it's one of the indicators I try to look at that shows us what we may see in terms of new construction versus re-appraisals," he said.
College Station has a $228 million budget and a tax rate of 43.94 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
The city offers its senior citizens a $30,000 tax exemption.
• April Avison's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.