Group of Fulshear homeowners battling Fort Bend over land appraisals

July 31, 2013 2:56:02 PM PDT
Homeowners have filed a lawsuit against Fort Bend County, saying they believe they're being discriminated against and are paying more taxes for it.

There are strong opinions on both sides of this fight. The African American landowners say their land values had remained steady until about 2008. Ever since then, their land value has gone up a lot, and they attribute some of that to discrimination.

With new construction replacing farmland, rural Fort Bend County isn't so rural anymore. That leads us to the area around Fulshear and dozens of frustrated African American land owners.

"They keep raising our taxes and we're not going to be able to afford to pay the taxes," homeowner Diana Offord said.

These landowners contend that the Fort Bend County Appraisal District has raised their land values at a faster rate than their white neighbors. They allege it's discrimination.

"I'm being charged 40,000 an acre, and their raw land value is being charged 19,000 or 22,000 an acre, and I don't think that's right," Offord said.

Offord says she's done her research, and that's why, armed with her data, she and several neighbors have filed suit against the Fort Bend County tax assessor, and the chief appraiser Glen Whitehead. Today in court, whitehead brushed off the allegations.

"We do a mass appraisal approach. We do not discriminate. We don't have in our database anything to say what nationality that property is owned by," Whitehead said.

On the stand, Offord listed out examples of African Americans with high land appraisals. But defense attorneys pointed out that many properties with lower land values were simply not included in the plaintiff's research, and the chief appraiser says the entire lawsuit is ridiculous.

"It's a frivolous lawsuit but I still have to go to court and defend that situation," approach said.

Both sides spent all day Wednesday presenting their own evidence. At the end, a judge said he saw no evidence of discrimination and denied a temporary injunction.

The lawsuit itself will continue through the process and isn't expected to be settled for several years, but Wednesday's ruling does not bode well for the plaintiffs.

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