What began as a simple agenda item on Wednesday’s County Commissioner’s Court meeting has raised new questions in the ongoing debate concerning multi-million dollar taxation lawsuits filed by some of the county’s largest property owners.
For years, local refineries like Valero and Flint Hills have sued the Nueces County Appraisal District over the district’s valuation calculations. Those calculations determine the refineries’ tax bill each year.
But with the lawsuits have come costly settlements and judgments, in which taxing entities like school districts, cities and the county, have had to write multi-million dollar refund checks to the refinery that sued in the first place.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Brent Chesney recently asked the district to come before the commissioners in public session and answer how they arrive at their valuations, and, why the refineries so often do not agree with them.
But, the appraisal district refused, forcing Chesney to remove the agenda item from Wednesday’s meeting.
The district is declining Chesney’s request based on the idea that divulging those details jeopardizes lawsuits now pending from both Valero and Flint Hills.
Appraisal district lawyer Tom Wheat tells 6 Investigates what Chesney is asking to be divulged to the Commissioners Court strikes at the “very heart of the appraisal district’s case,” and should be protected under attorney-client privilege.
Chesney, who is a lawyer, says he’s not asking for confidential information but rather, for answers to questions his constituents keep asking.
“My constituents want to know why we continually are paying back these lawsuits to the tune of millions of dollars?” Chesney said. “What’s going on with it? And I’m just trying to get a public presentation…”
On Thursday, Chief Appraiser Ronnie Canales responded, saying it’s not a matter of public dialogue, but understanding what is at stake. Canales also pointed out that neither Flint Hills, nor Valero, responded to Chesney’s invitation. Here’s Canales’ response: