Ag Exemption and Surface Mining

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Mining the Guadalupe River
Gravel pits and surface mining have become a major controversy, after Geologist/Geophysicist Scott Pope and TaxpayersWatch first brought it into public debate exactly one year ago.
Posted 2/11/06         to continue ...
 
Mining issue crops up in Center Point
Residents concerned about air pollution from rock-crushing operation
Posted 9/30/05                       To read Express-News article ...
 
Links to other articles from various sources concerning agricultural exemption in Kerr County.  to continue ....

Surface mining on ag exempt lands

by Carolyn Kahant for TaxpayersWatch

 

     On February 9, 2005, Commissioner #4 Dave Nicholson hosted a public workshop/meeting addressing claims of unregulated surface mining in Kerr County. The meeting was held in the Commissioners Courtroom of the Kerr County Courthouse.

 

     Local petroleum geologist Scott Pope brought large screen video monitors to present aerial photos of sections of the County with extensive mining operations. "What I'm seeing in Kerr County is tremendous proliferation of these mines without regulation," he told about 20 people in attendence. "Mining in Kerr County is not being done by professionals. It's being done by people with bulldozers for monetary reasons."

 

     Pope charged County leaders with insufficient concern for environmental damage being done by these non-professionals who just "scoop it up and load it in dump trucks and ruin the trees."

 

     Pope also found fault with the Appraisal District for allowing landowners to retain an agricultural exemption on portions of land that clearly could no longer support agriculture of any kind. After pointing to specific areas where loss of topsoil and vegetation was severe, he asked that the tax appraisal of these areas be reviewed.

 

     Chief appraiser P.H. "Forth" Coates said his employees were aware of the issues and had identified several tracts of land where mining was occurring. "Most of the ones you've identified we've asked for reapplications already." But he said landowners had plenty of avenues for appeal, so it was not always cost effective for the Appraisal District to pursue the case.

 

     Pope pointed out the criminal penalties for not reporting a change in the use of the land -- which is the landowners responsibility -- to which Coates responded, "We're not in the business of policing, we're in the business of appraising." Coates added that the whole tax system was the problem, mentioning the Kerr County over-65/disabled tax freeze and the new State wildlife exemption as contributing to the erosion of the tax base.

 

     Finally, Coates promised to look into "these mines, quarries, rock pits and see what we can do."

 

Progress Report

 

     TaxpayersWatch has kept in touch with Mr. Coates regarding the progress of the Appraisal District on these issues. Later in the Spring, I was told they were "working on it", had identified some properties and were sending out re-application forms to which the landowners had until April 30th to respond. I was told to check back later.

 

     On May 24, I met with Cathy Lifeste at the County Appraisal District office on Highway 27 to get an update. She told me they had sent out a total of five (5) re-application requests.

 

     Of the five, two have re-applied, were inspected and notified of a "rollback", or adjustment on their tax rate for the affected acreage, for the past 5 years. They have 30 days, after receiving the notification letter, to appeal to the tax appraisal board, and after that, to a state district court. If they end up paying the rollback and penalty, Ms. Lifeste estimated it would be less than $500 each. This does not include the criminal penalty Scott Pope had said existed under state law. It is unclear just how that is supposed to be enforced.

 

     Two others of the five applied late and have not yet been sent a rollback. They will be charged a 10% late penalty on their 2005 tax bill. The fifth has not responded. A notice of new appraised value, without the agricultural exemption, was sent out; the landowner has 30 days to protest.

 

     I asked Ms. Lifeste if she thought the misuse of the agricultural exemption was a big problem in Kerr County and, not surprisingly, she answered in the negative. She said many of the landowners are mining a small portion of their land for their own personal purposes -- road or other building on their own land. The area in question is so small compared to their total acreage as to be considered negligible.

 

      Another call to Cathy Lifeste on June 22 yielded the following information. Of the five properities in question, two are being rolled back, which means ordered to pay back taxes for the past 5 years for the acreage that's been mined. A third is still in process; a fourth has already ceased claiming an agricultural exemption; the fifth "doesn't apply" as mining has ceased and grass is growing back. No other properties have been investigated.

 

     TaxpayersWatch does not have the means to pursue this issue further. However, we welcome input from knowlegeable readers, and will publish any credible information.

 

 

TaxpayersWatch for Kerr County
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