Appraisers will work to fix botched county reval
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – The 2011 property valuations continue to be a burning issue around the Lake Norman area and Mecklenburg County and will remain so until all residents feel that the issue is resolved.
Pearson’s Appraisal Service, with offices in Wilson, N.C., held a public meeting Nov. 14 in the Cornelius Town Hall, at which they presented findings and recommendations of their review of the 2011 valuations.
The presentation, led by Pearson’s Manager Emmett Curl, reviewed 151 random neighborhoods where the company focused on home equity.
Curl explained that equity in these cases meant that if two houses are alike and in close proximity, they should be valued close, if not the same.
“If one is at $150,000 and one is at $100,000, then that’s a problem,” Curl said.
The company also looked at 52 neighborhoods that had the highest value increases and 375 random property record cards for the accuracy of the data.
Of the 151 random neighborhoods reviewed, 15 were determined to have major issues of equity and 34 have minor issues, meaning about one-third had some sort of problem with their revaluation.
Of the 52 singled-out neighborhoods, 20 had major issues and 18 had minor issues – about 75 percent of the most increased neighborhoods.
Pearson’s gave a detailed recommendation to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners at its Nov. 20 meeting. The recommendation included a range of talking points, including transparency and ongoing review.
Garret Alexander, the Mecklenburg County tax assessor who oversaw the 2011 revaluation, resigned at that meeting.
The county board continued its discussion on the revaluation at a meeting on Nov. 26 and decided to hire Pearson’s to study of 1,100 neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County to find any additional errors. The board estimates this will cost $150,000.
County Commissioner Karen Bentley, who represents the Lake Norman area, said Pearson’s will also oversee the transformation of the assessor’s office and guide the county in preparing for another revaluation.
“They will work very closely with county staff as well as commissioners in insuring that however we move forward is done in a way … that does not repeat the mistakes of 2011.”
Problems in local neighborhoods
The review identified neighborhoods that had minor or major problems, several of which were lake-area neighborhoods, including The Peninsula and The Greens at Birkdale. See a list of problem neighborhoods in the sidebar.
“The lake area was significantly hit when you look at the major errors that were discovered in the sampling alone,” Bentley said. “Lake Norman Property owners were significantly impacted by the negligence of the assessor’s office and the misapplication of the schedule of values in their assessment of properties.”
Alexander, the county tax assessor, told Pearson’s during their review that the eight-year revaluation cycle contributed to some of the reactions to new values.
“This was most evident on Lake Norman,” he said, where the revaluation captured significant market increases from 2003-2007.
No refunds – yet
The big question most residents have – when and how they’ll get their money back – doesn’t have an answer yet.
The Mecklenburg County board doesn’t have the authority to authorize refunds for previous years, so if property values are adjusted following the review, it will only help for future tax bills.
“It would be up to the state to provide legislation to provide (refunds),” Bentley said. “So for those folks that were over-assessed or under-assessed … the state would have to provide the authority to give them refunds or levy additional taxes.”
But with the authority to give refunds also comes the responsibility to correct those whose property was under-valued. Instead of a refund, many residents could be facing a bill.
Following Curl’s presentation, Cornelius residents were allowed to ask questions and voice their concerns.
Question: My concern is that a lot of information was brought in front of the board of county commissioners and the assessor’s office for the last two years, and they are still denying any issue.
I didn’t see any recommendations that suggested the licensed appraiser knew what they were doing.
We should possibly consider a solution to require the licensed appraisers to meet a certain set of standards and provide either an average of the private fee values to be offered and used as opposed to the county’s assessment value.
Curl: The state has regulations around appraisers working in tax offices.
The assessor is required to have 30 hours of continuing education every two years and his staff members are also required.
In some jurisdictions, the staff has felt so strongly about it, that they meet those requirements within the general sanction and then they themselves go get licensed to be either a residential appraiser or go another level and get commercial.
That is a community decision and is what you need to discuss with your elected officials.
Question: In the appeals process, what percentage received an increase in revaluation?
Curl: 454 properties got a value increase. About 4 percent out of 10,000 got an increase. It’s not unusual and it happens.
Question: For those people who are going to be appearing before the Board of Equalization and Review for the appeals process, what recommendations do you have for us?
Curl: If you have data that you believe will bear out that you are overvalued, I would encourage you to go onto your (county) website.
Look at the properties around you and see how they are valued.
You can see a land value and building values.
The state normally hears around 200-300 cases a year, and there are currently about 1,200 cases pending in Mecklenburg County alone.
They will come to your home and try to see what is right or wrong, and go from there.
If you actually have to go to a hearing, you are getting close to court. That can get very expensive, but stay with it if you think you are right.
Question: Commissioner Bentley and Senator-elect Jeff Tarte, the ball is in your court and I think it’s going to take legislation.
Karen Bentley: If it weren’t for you all and my leadership on our board, this (review) would not have happened. So we have their attention.
We have met several times anticipating that we may need some special legislation to retroactively fix this. So rest assured that we are on the front end of this and we are going to make it happen.
Jeff Tarte: Our desire is to let the entire process run its natural and complete course.
The outcome I would envision, the only fair and equitable solution, is to require a complete and total re-do. I sent a letter months ago to town mayors and managers in the area. I told them, in my opinion, you need to escrow a reasonable amount on your estimates of the property that has been overtaxed, because I believe you are going to have to refund those moneys.
What the county does not or cannot fix, it is our intent in the General Assembly to fix this and get it right.
Neighborhoods with problems
The review randomly selected 150 neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County and looked at neighborhoods that had the greatest change in value and judged whether those values following the 2011 revaluation were acceptable or had minor or major problems.
These Lake Norman-area neighborhoods were classified as either minor or major problem areas:
• Bahia Bay
• Beatties Ford Road area
• Bluestone Harbor
• Davidson College area
• Huntersville-Concord Road area
• Players Ridge/Springwinds areas
• The Greens at Birkdale
• The Peninsula