Property taxes are the largest and most onerous taxes Texans pay. But in Kaufman County, it pays to be well-connected.
Donald Trump’s election victory has been broadly viewed as retaliation by hard-working Americans to frustration with today’s political establishment and its close companion—cronyism. The politically connected receive special treatment, while the average taxpayer foots the bill for both the taxes and special interest handouts.
While we often consider cronyism to be relegated to the federal level in Washington D.C., it’s not. Cronyism is alive and well in Texas, particularly at the local level. Kaufman County provides an egregious example with inequities found in the state property tax system.
The Mayor of Forney – Rick Wilson – appears to be a personal beneficiary of preferential tax treatment. Wilson was able to get the appraised value of various parcels of real estate significantly lowered, including his personal residence.
Of particular interest are two parcels that he owns under the name SKW Holdings. (SKW Holdings is Rick Wilson’s entity.) The two parcels – 6509 and 6513 – are commercial tracts of land along Highway 80 next to Baylor Hospital. Despite their prime commercial location, Wilson was able to get them zoned agricultural, known colloquially as an “AG” exemption. Unsurprisingly, the two parcels are not eligible for such treatment.
The two parcels were originally valued at $3,575,180 combined, against which the owner would pay an annual property tax levy of $59,915.87. The appraisal has been lowered 99.9 percent so that Wilson now pays only $76.45 per year. (6509.1 / 6509.2; 6513.1/ 6513.2)
On yet another separate 45.6 acre tract, Wilson carries a sweetheart value of only $173,510. As for his personal property, unlike many Kaufman county residents, his appraisal value has remained the same value for at least 6 years. All during a time period marked by record growth in appraised value. (Wilson’s Personal Values HERE)
Would you be surprised to learn that the cronyism doesn’t stop with elected officials?
In 2013, Kaufman County Appraisal District’s Senior Appraiser (who is now in Van Zandt) – (William) Tanner Grimes – purchased his personal residence for $142,900. At the time of purchase, the county listed the appraised value at $98,850. Shortly after purchasing it, Grimes reduced the value on his own property to $85,100 (See Record HERE).
In the years that have followed, Grimes’s personal account has had a number of odd valuation changes made to it. To date his house is not assessed at the amount he paid for it 5 years ago. For Grimes, it literally pays to be the senior appraiser!
Kaufman also doles out benefits to those who are properly connected to local government officials. In the late 2000’s, a religious group named Gospel for Asia moved their headquarters from Carrollton to Willis Point. It appears they understood how things really work in Kaufman (Skyview HERE).
The group showered local officials with an all expenses trip to Asia where officials were wined and dined. Upon return, the group’s entire compound – which includes 85 homes, various community structures, and a worship facility – was granted tax-exempt status.
County records show the appraised values of the entire property at $35,682,320 (Value HERE) yet they pay no taxes. State law explicitly designates only the worship center and the religious leader’s parsonage as eligible for exemption, not the entire housing development for the congregation.
In Kaufman County, however, the law is merely a suggestion.
While other examples of property tax irregularities have been provided by sources inside the county, these are the most egregious and offensive.
The cronies get away with it when they make their deals in the dark. Local citizens must get more informed and engaged to help hold them accountable. Conservative reformers believe that this duty entrusted to taxpayers will be much easier to accomplish if government is put back inside its constitutional box.
In other words, a smaller government with less power and fewer responsibilities is much easier to hold accountable than the system we live under today.