Reval fight headed to Raleigh
by Staff Writer
CHARLOTTE – Residents filled the County Government Building on Tuesday, March 6, during the Mecklenburg County Commissioners meeting, to air their grievances regarding this year’s property revaluations, but many felt their concerns fell on deaf ears, leaving no other option than to take their concerns to higher powers.
“We’re taking it to the state because there doesn’t seem to be much movement in there to do anything about it,” said Cornelius resident and former town commissioner Jim Bensman.
Dozens of Cornelius and South Charlotte residents attended Tuesday’s meeting, and about 12 people spoke out against the revaluation and the tax assessor’s handling of it.
Bensman and a group of 11 residents from Cornelius put together a 13-page letter stating their concerns and citing state statute as a reason for the county commissioners to initiate an immediate review of the county assessor.
The letter was, in part, a response to County Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander’s speech to county commissioners during a Feb. 7 meeting in which he said his hands were tied because of state statute.
On Monday, Alexander sent a letter to Cornelius commissioners saying, “I will recommend to the Board of Equalization and Review that steps be considered to review the appeals on an area-wide basis and, to as much as is possible, postpone and/or reschedule appeals from your area of the county to allow time to evaluate the information you provided. I am directing assessor’s office staff to review the property valuation basis for Cornelius and the Lake Norman area and to determine the equity of the application of value to individual properties.”
The letter was in response to a meeting Alexander had with Cornelius commissioners and County Commissioner Karen Bentley, who represents the north Mecklenburg.
Bensman and Barb Scott, another Cornelius resident, said that statement is “unfair and unequal treatment of the citizens because it excludes citizens outside of Cornelius and Lake Norman.”
Bensman said he also questioned the legality of the way the assessments were carried out.
“The assessor said he was using the 10 percent factor to decide whether to apply the stigma assessment or not, and I don’t think there’s any legality in that,” he said. “You either have to do it county-wide or not at all. We question whether it should have been done at all.”
The stigma assessment, which is what South Charlotte residents were particularly upset about, is based more on the history of homes in a neighborhood, rather than its physical condition. Values are based on factors such as increased traffic, murder, drugs, even suicide – set before the valuation is carried out.
Bensman also said the assessor’s office did not use market value for sales, and many who spoke Tuesday night exemplified that.
One man, who didn’t state his name before addressing commissioners, said he purchased his home two months before the valuation was done.
The assessor’s office valued the home 40 percent higher than the purchase price. If that wasn’t bad enough, he said, following his informal review, it was revalued at $91,000 more than what he paid for it.
“Again, this is just two months after I bought the house,” the man said. “And the informal appeal was above the asking price the willing seller was asking for the home by another $150,000, so it couldn’t’ possibly have been worth what it was revalued for. I’m sorry, but if a willing buyer and seller come to an agreement two months before valuation, that has to be the valuation of the home.”
Bensman also said the assessor’s office broke it’s own rule of using properties for comparison that were sold before Dec. 31, 2010 when they used a lot that had it’s deed recorded Jan. 3, 2011 to assess the lot values of all of the homes in the Lake Norman area.
He added the assessor’s office valued homes at the same price, no matter their acreage – another violation.
“He’s repeatedly said he can’t do things because of statutes, but he’s not operating by them,” Bensman said of Alexander.
Bensman also questioned the appeals process and said homeowners weren’t given enough time or information to complete appeals.
“The assessor should allow appeals until June 15 because that’s what statute says and the document,” Bensman said.
Additionally, he said the assessor must give a reason for why appeals are denied, because without it, it’s “a violation of due process, and unequal treatment of individuals under the law.”
He said there’s been no transparency with the assessor’s office regarding any aspect of the valuations or appeals, and information they claimed could be found on the website had either been removed, or was too difficult to find.
“People who are not computer literate have virtually no information. There should be a better, legal way of communicating with 350,000 people,” Bensman said.
Cornelius’ staff and its board of commissioners have been working on addressing revaluation concerns with the county commissioners for months, and after sending a letter to the county in February asking for a moratorium on appeals until the assessment process had been thoroughly vetted, they were told during that Feb. 7 meeting there was nothing the commissioners could do about it.
Cornelius resident Ronald Kelly said Tuesday night, that’s not OK.
“The citizens in Mecklenburg County should never be told there’s a county department that your elected officials don’t have influence over,” Kelly said, especially since the head tax assessor, Alexander, is appointed by the commissioners. “If you get up in the morning and are trying to figure out why people are angry at government, this is exhibit one we’re exhibiting tonight.”
Want to know more?
See the letter Cornelius residents sent county commissioners about their revaluation concerns at www.huntersvilleherald.com.