April 18, 2005

Chronicle Smears Tax Activist Radio Host

Dan Patrick has been a thorn in the side of politicians in Houston for years. A couple of years back, he went state-wide when he led a group of listeners to Austin to protest the annual 10% appraisal increases allowed under state law. The experience made him an activist, as he and the common folks who took those buses to the Capitol were dissed and dismissed by Re. Fred Hill in favor of a group of lobbyists.

Well, after spending time digging through tax records to prove that politicians were getting favorable tax treatment by appraisal districts, I guess we shouldn't be surprised to find that the other side did the same thing to Dan. But whereas Dan did his work publicly, they did theirs undercover and anonymously, dumping the information they found in the lap of a Houston Chronicle reporter who would write a story that favored the stealth-tax supporters.

As a host on his own radio station, Dan Patrick has crusaded against rising property taxes.

Until this month, however, his taxes hadn't been rising as fast as everyone else's. It seems that Patrick, owner of homes in Katy and Montgomery, had homestead exemptions on both.

It wasn't his fault, really. As a professional slinger of zingers, he'd hardly leave himself open to something so easily verified on the Internet.

Which is how we checked out the anonymous phone tip. Sure enough, Patrick's home on Lake Conroe has a full homestead exemption, designed to lessen the tax burden on a primary residence. And his home in Katy also had a homestead break from the Katy Independent School District.

Until we made a couple of calls.

When Patrick transferred his homestead to Lake Conroe a few years ago, Montgomery and Fort Bend counties coordinated the removal of most of his Katy exemptions.

But Katy ISD straddles two counties and its school taxes are collected by Waller County. Montgomery didn't communicate with Waller, and Patrick didn't volunteer that he still had a KISD exemption because, he said, he didn't even notice.

Waller kept the exemption until contacted by the Chronicle. The county has billed him $595.

I left out the part of the story where the reporter gratuitously throws in Dan's real name (Dan Patrick is the professional name he has used in broadcasting in this city for around a quarter century), despite the fact that it did nothing to enhance the story. The sad thing is, Dan's real name may have been the only actual fact in the piece. According to his account over at Lone Star Times, it wasn't some reporter that prompted the change -- and Dan has the letters and paperwork to prove that he acted properly in this situation.

I made it very clear to Mr. Feldstein last week that I had done nothing wrong, that the facts of the matter are clear about my having done nothing wrong, and that he was being used by my political opponents in an attempt to harm me.

Knowing all that, he chose to go ahead and write this article anyway.

Here are the facts, which I am prepared to document and attest to under oath, in the course of a legal proceeding:

* For many years I lived with my family in Katy, located in Fort Bend Co., and listed that home as my primary residence.
* During the period that my home in Katy was my primary residence, I always paid my Fort Bend Co. property taxes on time and in full.
* Only for purposes of paying Katy Independent School District taxes, my home in Katy was subject to appraisal and assessment by Waller Co.
* During the period that my home in Katy was my primary residence, I always paid my Waller Co. property taxes on time and in full.
* Because my home in Katy was my primary residence, I claimed and received a standard homestead exemption from both Fort Bend and Waller counties.
* For the past several years, I have also owned a second home on Lake Conroe in Montgomery Co.
* Because my second home on Lake Conroe was not my primary residence, I neither claimed nor received a homestead exemption for it.
* During this period, I always paid my Montgomery Co. property tax bill on time and in full.
* In 2003 my home on Lake Conroe became my primary residence.
* As required by law, I immediately notified the proper taxing authorities in both Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, dropping my homestead exemption from the former and reassigning it to the latter.
* In situations such as this, not only is it standard procedure for Fort Bend Co. to notify Waller Co. of any changes in homestead exemption status, they have a legal obligation to do so.
* Fort Bend Co. taxing authorities have confirmed for me, on multiple occasions, both verbally and in writing, that they– not I– were in error by not following standard procedures or meeting their legal obligation to notify Waller Co. of my change in homestead exemption status.
* My "dual homestead" exemptions were the result not of my actions, nor of my legal negligence, but of multiple bureaucratic errors that the bureaucracy itself acknowledges I was neither responsible for nor aware of.
* When my property tax bills of the last two years came for my home in Katy (which was now no longer my primary residence), I paid what the taxing authorities told me I owed.
* Because of mistakes and errors made not by me, but rather by three separate taxing bureaucracies, over the past two years I wasn’t assessed approximately $500 in property taxes, out of a combined property tax bill for my home in Katy that totaled close to $20,000.
* In February of this year I received a letter from Fort Bend Co. taxing authorities notifying me of their failure to properly communicate with Waller Co., but including no statement as to the amount of back taxes I might owe as a result of their mistake.
* Also in February of this year I received a letter from Waller Co. taxing authorities notifying me of their failure to properly communicate with Fort Bend Co., but also not including any statement as to the amount of back taxes I might owe as a result of their mistake.
* Of my own volition, I contacted Fort Bend Co. taxing authorities and spoke with a supervisor, who was very professional, very helpful, and who made it clear to me that this mistake had been their fault, not mine.
* I asked the supervisor if I owed any back taxes as a result of their error, and she advised me that there would be a tax bill due of approximately $500 dollars.
* The supervisor informed me that there would be no penalty due if I paid the tax by May 1st, 2005, since this matter had not been the result of my error.
* I have that statement in writing, signed by the supervisor.
* When I informed the supervisor that I was selling that home, she suggested that I simply allow the taxing authorities to assess and collect that amount at closing.
* Despite having closed the sale of my former home in Katy at the beginning of this month (April), it doesn’t appear that any taxing authority took the amount of back taxes I accrued as a result of their error.
* I am in the process of verifying that fact, so that I do not overpay my taxes.
* In fact, I still haven’t gotten an official statement, from any taxing jurisdiction, telling me exactly how much I owe them as a result of their mistake.

Again, I want to be perfectly clear– I communicated to Dan Feldstein and the Houston Chronicle the substance of all of this information last week.

So it turns out that the appraisal authorities of three different taxing authorities screwed up his assessment and exemption -- and acknowledge it in writing. They made contact about the matter with him IN FEBRUARY, not last week, as the article implies. And Dan did exactly what most of us do when we receive that bill (if it isn't paid through a mortgage company) -- wrote the check and didn't go over the thing with fine-tooth comb. We assume that the agencies in charge have done their job correctly and sent us a bill for the correct amount. What's more, the total annual shortfall was around $200 a year over the last three years -- an almost insignificant amount on a tax bill that approaches $7000 annually. The short answer is that Dan did everything right, unless you believe that a taxpayer has an obligation to double-check the work of the taxing authorities for accuracy and competence.

Now Dan Feldstein seems miffed at something Dan Patrick said during the course of his interview.

"If you come after me, I'll come after you," he cheerily imparted to an inquiring reporter.

Well, Dan Patrick has an explanation for that as well.

I made that promise to Mr. Feldstein because as our interview went on it became clear to me that he was less interested in being fair than in smearing me– a suspicion borne out by the callous disregard for the truth evident in the article he finally produced.

Guess what -- when you are a reporter you usually are able to get away with writing a slanted hit-piece. Dan Patrick, on the other hand, has something that Dan Feldstein doesn't -- his own radio station where he talks about whatever he wants for two hours a day (wanna guess what today's topic was), a professionally maintained website that is reqad by many Houstonians where he can post a response that will be read, and an audience that will defend him. Were I Dan Feldstein, I would expect to be on the receiving end of a lot of heat over this attempted smear.

|| Greg, 11:35 PM || Permalink || Comments (0) || Comments

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