El Paso County Commissioner David Stout, who is seeking reelection to represent Precinct 2, refutes his opponent’s implication that his seat on the El Paso Central Appraisal District board of directors has an impact on his lower property value.
Stout, 42, will face off against Judy Gutierrez in the upcoming May 24 Democratic primary runoff election. The retired city of El Paso employee forced Stout into a runoff in the March primary, receiving 39.5% of the vote to his 43% — a difference of 387 votes.
There is no Republican candidate in this race.
Gutierrez, 58, declined an interview request for this article, while Stout called her recent mailers nothing but lies.
“It’s unfortunate that all of her campaign is based on misinformation and trying to con (voters) into voting for her by telling them things that aren’t true,” Stout said.
Gutierrez’s mailer takes aim at the fact that the property value of Stout’s Central El Paso home decreased from 2020 to 2021, and remained the same in 2022, while the total taxable value of residential properties across the county increased by 17% from last year.
This is the second year in a row that El Paso property valuations have skyrocketed. Last year, thousands of homeowners saw a spike in their property tax bills after local taxing entities set their annual property tax rates.
“The opponent looks out for himself,” Gutierrez’s mailer states. “Commissioner Stout sits on the organization that determines property values. He is on the El Paso Appraisal District Board of Directors and chose not to disclose it in his campaign material.”
There are nine members on the El Paso Central Appraisal District board, each representing a taxing entity. Stout was reappointed to a one-year term on the CAD board by the Commissioners Court in January of this year.
“There’s absolutely no influence that a CAD board member can have over the way the appraisals are done or the way the values are set when it comes to the properties,” Stout said.
According to the appraisal district’s website, “the local property tax system follows the principle of checks and balances.” The CAD board hires the chief appraiser, sets the annual budget and appoints the appraisal review board officers.
“The directors have no authority to set values or appraisal methods,” the website states. “The chief appraiser carries out the appraisal district’s legal duties, hires the staff, makes the appraisals and operates the appraisal office.”
It would be illegal for members of the board to interfere or request lower property valuations for their homes, CAD Executive Director and Chief Appraiser Dinah Kilgore said during a presentation to Commissioners Court on May 3.
Kilgore said if a board member were to approach her to reduce a property value she would warn that individual, then report them to the board if necessary.
“It’s not been done in 40 years and it’s definitely not done on my watch and it will not be done,” Kilgore said.
Stout’s appraised property value was $179,400 in 2020. It dropped to $159,400 in 2021 and remained the same this year.
“The reason why you see the decrease is because I protested (my property value),” Stout said. “I was looking to refinance my mortgage, and I had a professional market appraisal done and it showed that my property value was valued significantly less than what the CAD had placed.”
Stout said he did what any other property owner has the right to do, as state law allows property owners to protest their valuations if they believe they are too high.
According to CAD property records and her campaign finance reports, Gutierrez does not own residential property in the county. She rents an apartment in the Austin High School area.
Stout said this is the second time Gutierrez relies on lies in her campaign. Gutierrez has asserted that Stout has been working toward defunding police.
Stout maintains that his voting record shows that he has supported various funding initiatives for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department since he joined Commissioner’s Court in 2015.
“I think the voters will show that they’re not going to give into this type of misinformation that they’re getting that they’re smarter than that,” Stout said.
Because of the steep increase in property valuations, local governments, like the county, will be required to cut their property tax rates to comply with a new state law that caps the annual increase in property tax revenue they can collect to 3.5%, unless they seek voter approval.
Last year, the El Paso County Commissioners Court lowered its tax rate by 3.6%, the “no-new-revenue” rate that brought the county the same property tax revenues as the previous fiscal year.
Gutierrez’s mailer states that she “will stand up against a tax rate increase caused by skyrocketing property appraisals,” and notes she will propose a higher county homestead exemption for seniors and veterans.
The amount of a tax increase or decrease is based on a combination of tax rates and property valuations.
Stout said he will continue to work with the commissioners to find ways to minimize the impact of rising property valuations on taxpayers during the upcoming budget cycle.
“I feel like it’s incumbent upon us as a taxing entity to look at our budget and work to balance it in a fashion that will also allow us to provide additional relief and additional cuts in the tax rate,” Stout said.
He said one of the ways the county may be able to do that is by hiring more grant writers. If the county had more capacity to write and apply for grants to fund county projects that could help in the budgeting process, he said.
Early voting for the May 24 primary runoff election begins May 16 and ends May 20.