By Bill Hanna
After the sharp drops seen last year in North Texas property values, a 1 percent overall gain across Tarrant County this year was greeted with optimism Friday by most local taxing entities.
Compared to the $5.5 billion loss in property values across Tarrant County last year, the overall gain of $1.2 billion for 2011 is seen as a substantial improvement, though some cities that saw significant declines again this year.
Some local officials said they view the rising values as evidence of the beginning of an economic recovery.
Communities and school districts have been awaiting the numbers released Friday. These certified tax rolls generally are the estimates cities and school districts will now use to set their tax rates and write their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.
Fort Worth saw a 2 percent increase from last year - or more than $789 million - which should help the city with its projected $30 million shortfall. The initial budget will be as it presents its budget to the City Council on Aug. 9.
"We're extremely encouraged by the results," said Fort Worth budget officer Horatio Porter. "They have the potential to have a positive impact on our budget gap."
While some parts of Fort Worth saw a drop in residential real estate values, Porter said that was balanced by commercial development in some parts of the city.
"We did see quite a few accounts that had a reduction because of the economy," Porter said. "But with commercial development, such as the build-out of several key projects in West 7th Street/Museum Place area, we were able to offset that."
Arlington, meanwhile, was nearly flat with 0.2 percent gain while neighboring Mansfield saw a 2.5 percent increase.
The figures are based on the value of land, buildings, business inventories and mineral values as of Jan. 1. The growth is calculated on net taxable value, which reflects deductions for homestead exemptions, abatements and freeport exemptions for businesses.
Many entities saw slights gains or slight losses but there were exceptions.
In Northeast Tarrant County, the valuations were a mixed bag. Euless, for example, had a 4.8 percent increase while neighboring Hurst saw a 0.9 percent decrease and Richland Hills suffered a 7.4 percent drop.
"We'll just tighten our belt just a little bit more, but we'll make it work," said Richland Hills Mayor David Ragan who was still reviewing the data late Friday. "I don't anticipate any change in our employment level."
Saginaw and Roanoke saw increases around 5 percent while Haslet saw a 3.2 percent jump.
The small Eagle Mountain Lake community of Pelican Bay, which had the largest percentage increase last year at 22 percent, saw it fortunes turn dramatically this year with an 11.9 percent decrease
For school districts the picture isn't as clear. While some area school districts saw increases in their property values, most do not see a major boost because of complex school funding formulas.
Essentially most school districts have a set amount they receive per-pupil in a combination of local property taxes and state funds. If local property taxes raise more money, the state's portion is less.
'Drop in the bucket'
Fort Worth ISD, for example, gained about $328 million in taxable property values, a 1.2 percent growth. But that will likely end up adding roughly $30,000 to a nearly $600 million budget as a result.
"It's so minor that it's like a drop in the bucket," said Hank Johnson, the district's chief of schools.
Tarrant County Chief Appraiser Jeff Law said there were about 73,000 protests this year, about the same as last year.
More than 20,000 were settled informally but the rest were scheduled for hearing, which will likely continue into September and possibly October. But Law said the appraisal district will provide a supplemental report to taxing entities on Sept. 1 to help them set their final budgets.
"It's possible there could be a little bit of an increase," Law said when those values are updated again. "We've been very conservative in our estimates."
Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius said the overall values show signs of an economic recovery. He said there are pockets of construction of new homes, multi-family housing and commercial development across the county.
"That's good news for everybody," Maenius said.
Staff writers Aman Batheja, Eva-Marie Ayala, Anna M. Tinsley and Susan Schrock contributed to this report.