Downtown owners question property values

HARLINGEN — Like other property owners along the four-block area, Lars Keim wants to know why it looks like his building might have suddenly soared in value in the Jackson Street business district.

The old brick building at 204 W. Jackson Ave., home to the popular Carlito’s Wine House, appears to have “significantly” increased in appraised value, Keim said yesterday.

Now, Keim and other Jackson Street property owners are preparing to protest anticipated increases in assessed values along those blocks of downtown.

“I think everyone is going to protest,” Trisha Cavazos, owner of Flowers by Jesse, said. “Everyone is on board, of course.”

Yesterday, Keim, Cavazos and about 60 Jackson Street property owners and merchants met with Richard Molina, chief appraiser for the Cameron County Appraisal District, for answers.

“They neglected, over time, to evaluate these properties,” Keim said after the Good Morning Downtown Coffee meeting yesterday morning. “My hope is that after this meeting they understand the extent of the impact of raising these values so fast so quickly.”

Molina said new sales information allowed the district to reappraise the four-block area’s properties this year.

“It’s not an oversight,” Molina said after the meeting.

Until the last three years, he said, a low number of property sales along those blocks did not allow comparisons with other downtown areas.

New Jackson Street sales, he said, have helped appraisers adjust property values to bring them closer to those in other Harlingen downtown areas.

That’s how appraisers determined the new assessments.

“If we don’t have enough information for one area, we don’t have sufficient evidence to make those changes, Molina said. “Jackson has the biggest increases (in the downtown area) because the information shows they’ve been undervalued.”

After the district mails its notices April 15, property owners are going to find out if their buildings’ appraised values increased.

Values going up

Along the four-block area, property values might increase by an average of about 70 percent, according to proposed figures property owner Bill DeBrooke found on the appraisal district’s website last month.

Now, properties along those blocks are assessed at a total $4.3 million.

Under the proposal, assessments would increase to a total of $7.25 million, marking an increase of $2.95 million.

However, Molina, who described those numbers as preliminary figures subject to change, said that data inadvertently posted has been removed from the website.

“It’s misleading information,” Molina said. “They’re a work-in-progress until we close the system. They can change daily.”

Molina said he closed the appraisal district’s system yesterday as he prepares to mail out notices showing Cameron County properties’ assessed values April 15.

“I feel very comfortable that what we’re ready to send out in notices is where the market value should be,” Molina said.

Tax hike feared

But along Jackson Street, property owners and merchants are concerned big changes in appraised values would spark tax increases that could lead to higher rents, forcing many shops to shut down, leaving some buildings empty.

“It’s going to be a shocker to everyone in the downtown,” Keim said. “You’re talking about effectively having to raise rents $150 to $200. That’s a huge change in the percent of rent people pay.”

Beth Fuqua, owner of J&B’s Café, said rent increases could force some shops to shut down.

“It’s got a lot of people upset,” Fuqua said after the meeting. “The property values are going to go up. If they go the way they’re talking, the property owners will pass it on to the renters and they won’t be able to afford it.”

Owners to protest

Ken Soles, who leases part of his building to Fuqua, said he plans to protest anticipated changes in appraised property he expects could increase the value of his building “well over 70 percent.”

“It is going to be significant,” Soles said of his anticipated increases in property values.

Along with J&B’s Café, Soles also leases to Alexandre’s Fine Jewelry and El Centro Finance.

“I have three renters I have to protect,” he said.

Molina said property owners can begin protesting proposed increases in property values after they receive notices expected to be mailed April 15.

“If they have evidence that their property might not be the same as other properties, we ask them to bring any information they have so we can know how that would change the value,” Molina said.

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