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County resumes normal staffing at downtown Waco tax office

County resumes normal staffing at downtown Waco tax office

McLennan County Records Building (copy)

The public may not view opening the tax office as priority No. 1 during the COVID-19 crisis, but it now is fully operational.

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton and County Tax Assessor-Collector Randy Riggs walked through the tax office and vehicle registration areas of the county records building at Fifth Street and Washington Avenue earlier this week and later approved a resumption of services that had been reduced.

On Monday, the county will publicize the change. The public now has full access to county staff members as they conduct business, including paying taxes and changing vehicle titles.

“It’s full speed ahead,” Felton said.

But the county is not throwing caution to the wind.

Employees wear masks, and social distancing is enforced. Plexiglass has been installed at strategic locations to protect employees and the public.

Felton said coronavirus-related adjustments previously included rotating employees on- and off-duty to reduce staff density and exposure.

A protocol was established to continue serving vehicle dealers whose livelihood depends on making and recording transactions.

“McLennan County commissioners and I had been watching the situation, and we knew Randy Riggs was eager to take this step,” Felton said.

Property taxes are starting to appear on the public’s radar. The McLennan County Appraisal District started sending out home appraisal notices this week that reflect an average 6.5% increase in the taxable value of homes countywide. In Waco, the norm was 6.4%, according to the appraisal district.

MCAD’s offices remain closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the district is preparing to field protests from taxpayers online. The Appraisal Review Board has the task of weighing staff appraised values against public perception.

The 6.5% increase in homes’ taxable values this year follows increases of 4.7% last year, 11.9% in 2018 and 5.9% in 2017. The appraisals are made based on conditions in January, so they do not reflect any changes in property value caused by strains COVID-19 has placed on the economy.

Meanwhile, City of Waco spokesman Larry Holze said decisions loom on the opening of Cameron Park Zoo and Waco Mammoth National Monument. The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum has opened with reduced capacity and exhibits adjusted.

Private fitness facilities may reopen on May 18, the same day restaurants may see state occupancy allowances increase from 25% to 50%.

Holze said Waco Municipal Court and the Waco-McLennan County Library system also may open May 18, but a formal decision has not been made.

Basketball courts, skate parks and splash pads that fall within the city’s purview also could be considered for opening May 18.

“We should have more announcements next week,” Holze said.

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