It started out as a simple question – who pays the most in property taxes in El Paso. I wanted to analyze the top property owners, both commercial and residential, to see how the burden of property taxes is distributed among the taxpayers of the city. Although I thought it would be a simple exercise of asking the El Paso Central Appraisal District (CAD) for a list of the top ten commercial and residential assessed taxable property owners what it became was further proof that El Paso politicians have no clue. I should have known better – when it comes to efficiency and readily available tax information in El Paso it’s all designed to thwart the ability to hold politicians accountable. The response I received asking for information was we don’t have that information available. Instead, what the CAD was proposing was that they would assign a programmer to program the necessary program in order to produce a list of the top ten taxpayers in the community.
That’s right, the entity taxed with compiling and reporting on the property taxes collected for the taxing entities did not have the capability to hit a button and print out a report listing the top ten taxpayers. Incredulous, I asked what can you give me. I was told that the CAD must produce an annual report to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts listing the top ten taxpayers in the community.
The caveat was that the listing included an aggregate amount combining the total properties for one entity. In other words, the list would show me that Western Refining owned the highest taxable property in El Paso comprised of each plot of land, building or property that they reported as taxable in a single line item. Otherwise to assign a programmer would cost me an undetermined amount of money because they needed to first ascertain how long it would take to program the report. Not wanting to find out that programming a report would end up costing me more than what I had available to me I opted for the readily available report. I asked how far they could go back so that I could look at trending and I was told that they could only go as far back as 2009 because they had recently changed their computer systems.
Oh, and I had to pay a $10 fee for the privilege of getting a copy of each of the reports they had already compiled for the state since 2009.
It probably wouldn’t surprise any of you to know that the owner of the highest taxable value property is Western Refining LP. ($474,079,720 in 2013) They have been at the top of the list since 2009. The next highest value property owners, in order, are El Paso Electric Co ($286,061,538 in 2013), River Oaks Properties, LTD ($165,260,783 in 2013) and Simon Property Group ($165,260,783 in 2013).
Up until 2012, Southwestern Bell Telephone Co ($92,762,116 in 2012) held the fifth place until it was replaced by Texas Gas Service ($84,075,548 in 2013) in 2013. I can’t share with you what the value for Southwestern Bell was for 2013 because they were not in the top ten list that was provided to me for 2013.
The next five owners rounding out the list from 2009 through 2012 are Tenet Hospital, Cardinal Health, El Paso Outlet Centers, DuPont, Sierra Providence, Freeport-McMoran, Walmart, Las Palmas shopping center and Union Pacific Railroad. Because the list that I had to work with was limiting I was not able to complete any meaningful analytical trends. However, since one of the notions about the burden of taxes in El Paso centers on whether the homeowner is unfairly burdened, or not, I looked to see if this was true from the information at my disposal.
In an attempt to answer this I took the total of the top five highest value property owners in the community, substituting Texas Gas Service for Southwestern Bell in fifth place, and totaled them together. The top five highest value property owners accounted for $1,204,987,513 in 2013. Knowing that the total taxable property value reported for El Paso is $32,476,822,096, I divided that number by the top five taxpayers. This told me that the top five property owners account for about 3.71% of the total taxable property but this information still didn’t answer whether homeowners are unfairly burdened with paying property taxes.
Looking for that answer I decided that I should look at how many residential taxpayers there are versus commercial property owners. The CAD separates taxpayers into accounts. Of the different account types I assumed that the single family and mobile homes were residential property owners. Although I realize that some multi-family accounts can be residences because they are individually owned condominiums, in my opinion, they account for an insignificant amount in this comparison and thus I classified them as commercial.
From those numbers I came up with 215,589 residential accounts. These accounts for 53% of the total 404,878 accounts that the CAD reports. I realize that although 53% are residential accounts this does not necessarily equate to homeowners paying about half of the total taxes. Also, because the CAD isn’t able to provide me with totals divided between commercial and residential owners it is rather difficult to ascertain for sure who pays the most in property taxes, commercial businesses or residential owners.
However, I do know, through some simple math, that the average taxable value in 2013 is $80,213.85.
Although I can assume that commercial property is likely of higher value then the residential the fact remains that the number of commercial accounts is about equal to the total of the homeowners. I can’t conclusively tell you that commercial property owners account for about half (likely more) of the property taxes paid in El Paso but the evidence seems to suggest that the homeowner is unlikely unfairly paying the majority of the property taxes, contrary to popular belief.
To me, it looks like commercial property owners are paying more than half of the property taxes. How much, I can’t readily tell you because it would take a programmer to get me the information from the CAD’s computer systems, or so they tell me.