CORNELIUS – When Cornelius Commissioner Chuck Travis built his home on the end of Belle Isle Drive, he also bought a small lot just across the street so he had some control of the land nearby.
Mayor Jeff Tarte joked last week that the lot isn’t big enough for more than a few parking spaces, but it does sit on the water at the tip of the peninsula that Belle Isle Drive bisects. Travis said he paid $8,000 for the quarter-acre lot, and Cornelius zoning prevents him from ever building anything on the lot, even a dock leading into the water. So he thought the value had risen to about $15,000.
When Travis got his revaluation notice from the county tax assessor’s office earlier this year, he learned just how valuable appraisers think that tiny piece of water front land is: $700,000.
Curiously, however, appraisers also valued the land on which he built his house for $700,000, and Cornelius officials say they are hearing that appraisers assigned the same value to all waterfront lots, regardless of size and use.
Though he’s troubled that appraisers put the same value on two very different lots, Travis hasn’t raised a public fuss. But Bob Deaton, a Belle Isle Drive neighbor, isn’t taking the revaluation quietly, and he promised county officials at a town hall meeting Wednesday, April 27, that he would raise all the dust he can if he doesn’t get a satisfactory answer to his revaluation appeal.
County leaders came to Cornelius Town Hall last week to explain the budget process and listen to residents’ priorities for the 2011-12 budget. But several residents, Deaton most vocally, said they’d rather talk about the county’s revaluation of property.
A local resident for 37 years, Deaton said he built his home on the lake, with no intentions of leaving. But the new assessed value on his home increased 64 percent, Deaton said. And he’s talked to others whose assessed value increased 50 to 200 percent.
But assessed values on homes on the land-side of Belle Isle Boulevard didn’t go up nearly as much, Deaton said.
“What this revaluation is doing is squeezing me out,” Deaton said. “It’s forcing me to consider selling.”
County assessment officials have not interviewed Deaton to review his objections, and he warned county commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts: “You better get it square because a lot of people up here are not happy.”
During a break in the meeting, Tarte said he’s concerned with what he’s heard about people who filed early appeals with the tax assessor’s office. Property owners have told the mayor county officials agreed to negotiate down the appraised value without making any larger review of how appraisers arrived at lake values.
Contacted about the revaluation and appeal process, the assessor’s office issued a statement: “The base price in The Peninsula is $700k and factored up or down based on individual size, location, etc. So to allege all are $700k is incorrect. We have been looking at, counting and sorting the informal reviews, but no appeals have been worked or values adjusted at this point in time.
“As to a 250 percent increase in value, that is entirely possible, and we would have to know the parcel ID to verify. We do not, however, consider the prior value of any parcel in appraising property for revaluation. The only time/reason we look at the percent increase is in determining overall increases in performing tax base projections. We will respond to any additional specifics that you can provide us with.”
Said Tarte: “What I have heard from many residents who live on the water is that it appears that everyone has had their lot value set at roughly $700,000 with little variation. I have not confirmed the numbers, but with a little home work someone should be able to verify if this is true. … If so, this is a problem that needs to be addressed as all lots and homes on the lake are obviously not identical.”
A lecture from Bensman
County budget officials reported that they are seeing sales tax and other revenues starting to increase as the economy appears to be adding jobs locally. Roberts said she hears “very strong sentiment in the community for re-investment” in programs and people.
County employees, for instance, have not received raises the past two years, their health insurance costs have increased and they’ve seen other benefits cut.
When Roberts asked for comments from the audience of about 25, Cornelius Commissioner Jim Bensman, the only elected official besides Tarte to attend the town hall meeting, raised his hand. “Don’t get ahead of yourself,” he told Roberts, “and stop using the world ‘invest,’” which he said is just a different term for more spending.
“The recession is not over,” Bensman said, adding that unemployment remains above 10 percent and gas prices are continuing to rise. Before Deaton and others took to the microphone to complain about revaluation, Bensman noted county property owners have filed 41,000 appeals of revaluation notices, many more appeals than county officials had predicted.
“Residents of Cornelius have been hit harder than any other community,” Bensman said. “The values are completely out of whack” and he said county commissioners should lower the tax rate to avoid residents getting much higher tax bills because of revaluation.
“Is there a question in that?” Roberts asked after Bensman finished, and she assured him county officials know the recession isn’t over and sales tax revenues are volatile.
“Nobody is happy with us right now,” Roberts said of revaluation. “Either they’re too high or they’ve gone down.”
Residents: Don’t forget libraries, schools
After the revaluation dust settled, residents did get a chance to talk about their spending priorities for 2011-12, and school and libraries got the most attention, with a number of leaders of the Davidson library fundraising campaign present.
In the past two years of severe budget cuts, the library and park systems and the county’s Public Service and Information Department have taken the biggest cuts. A task force that studied the library system recommended the county increase library funding by $2 million. Without that increase, the task force recommended increasing hours for regional libraries and closing some community branches, including Cornelius and Davidson.
Leland Park, the retired Davidson College librarian who served on the Davidson library campaign, told county officials, “We’ve got support for the Davidson library fired up. For that, I guess we should thank you. ... These are unique community assets in north Mecklenburg,” Park said, “and we need to keep this footprint whole and keep these libraries open.”