Lake Brownwood is home to about 940 boat docks valued at nearly $8 million, Brown County Chief Tax Appraiser Doran Lemke said.
The docks are on the tax rolls, taxed as real property — property held in the form of land or buildings.
Two lawsuits before the 35th District Court argue that the litigants’ boat docks are personal property, not real property, and are exempt from taxation.
Abilene resident Don Chambers, who filed one of the lawsuits, initially won a summary judgment from District Judge Steve Ellis in which Ellis agreed that his boat dock is personal property. Ellis, however, later vacated that order and granted the appraisal district’s motion for a new trial. A trial date has not been set.
Chambers, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, argues that his dock at Cason Cove is not used as a residential dwelling or for the production of income, and meets all of the requirements of tangible personal property.
Chambers said he owns the land adjacent to the dock. He said the dock is not attached to the land, but is moored to the lake bottom.
In the other lawsuit before the court, Abilene brothers Bryan Fowlkes and Barry Fowlkes are seeking to have the suit heard as class action.
The suit asks the court to declare that boat docks at Lake Brownwood that are connected to land not owned by the dock owners, and not producing income or used for business purposes, are tangible personal property.
“There’s obviously a difference of opinion about what real property is,” said Judith Hargrove, an Austin attorney representing the appraisal district. “Is (a boat dock) real or personal property when affixed to land and used in connection with real property?
“I guess the question is, when does personal property become real property? It’s sort of a new issue.”
The Fowlkes brothers own docks on land owned by the Brown County Water Improvement District, their lawsuit states. The docks are not permanently attached to the land but are secured to land to prevent them from drifting around the lake, the suit states.
On Feb. 22, 2007, Ellis signed a court order granting partial summary judgment in Chambers’ case and ordered Chambers’ boat dock removed from the tax rolls for the year 2005, the year the suit was filed.
The court order noted that an earlier court ruling held that a boat dock owned by David Carrroll was personal property. “This court once again finds that the boat dock in question is tangible personal property …” Ellis’ court order stated.
The appraisal district’s attorneys later argued that the court should not have ruled in favor of Chambers based on an earlier ruling that favored Carroll because the facts in the cases were not the same.
Ellis agreed, vacated the summary judgment and ordered a new trial.
“We’re back to square one,” Chambers said.