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Low natural gas prices again hurt East Texas property values

By Glenn Evans
May 8, 2012 at 10:02 p.m.

Gregg County property values are continuing to decline, according to estimates released Tuesday by the Gregg County Appraisal District.

The 4 percent drop in estimated values follows a 3 percent decline this past year - largely accountable both years to falling natural gas prices, said Chief Appraiser Tom Hays.

If the estimates hold, local taxing entities could have to increase tax rates to maintain revenues.

The estimated 2012 values, which won't be certified until mid-summer after challenges are worked out with property owners, are about $7.9 billion countywide.

That includes 270 new homes added to the tax rolls since 2011.

Certified values this past year settled in at a little more than $8.2 billion.

"The oil part of it is up," Hays said. "But most everybody has more gas than they do oil."

That left the White Oak area as Gregg County's bright spot.

"Because of the water flows," Hays said, referring to underground water movement herding the East Texas Oil Field westward. "It's coming out at the end, which is White Oak."

Property in that school district is estimated at $353 million, nearly a 9 percent increase from this past year's $329 million.

City of White Oak property values increased 5.25 percent, from $341 million to just less than $359 million.

Except for adjacent Clarksville City, every one of the county's other 17 taxing entities saw values dip.

Values that the appraisal district places on properties are used by schools and cities to set the next year's tax rate.

Falling values means those taxing entities would have to set higher rates to collect the same revenue. But Hays said it was possible final values might approach this past year's certified levels after court and legislative battles play out.

County appraisers didn't count values on some large-ticket oil and gas extraction equipment, he said. The outcome of a pending court battle could allow cities and schools to tax oil rigs and compressors, which a new law exempted from taxes until they are sold.

He added that a Texas House of Representatives committee met this past week to investigate altering that new law when the 83rd Legislature convenes in January.

"When the dust settles, we'll have at least the 2012 number back to the 2011 values," he said. "There's some ups and downs in a lot of places."

Gas and oil values also continued to be hit by companies physically moving operations to the San Antonio area, where the Haynesville Shale natural gas field remains active.

Hays noted commercial and residential growth are continuing around the Towne Crossing development around North Eastman Road and Hawkins Parkway.

Values in the Longview Independent School District fell, under the estimates, from $4 billion to $3.8 billion. Those for the city of Longview went from $5.1 billion to almost $4.9 billion.



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