County commissioners still weighing merits of 2014 revaluation
by Mike Parks
Mecklenburg County Commissioners gutted Karen Bentley’s proposal to audit the 2011 property tax revaluation and order a new revaluation in 2014 this week, opting instead to independently review the controversial process but only look into the logistics of when to do the next one.
Bentley, representing a host of angry north Mecklenburg homeowners, asked the board Tuesday night, May 1, to order an audit of the tax update and schedule a new revaluation for Jan. 1, 2014, where the county would look at each homeowner’s property and assign a value, and new tax, for each parcel. The latest revaluation left many homeowners in a tailspin after they saw their property tax increase, or in some cases skyrocket, despite the recession and devastated housing market.
But Tuesday night a few on the board, and County Manager Harry Jones, argued it’s too early to audit the process since all appeals haven’t been heard yet, and it’s way too early to schedule another revaluation. Jones argued that an audit was neither “necessary or appropriate” and urged commissioners not to move forward with the review, despite a pro-audit, standing-room-only crowd that at times booed those who didn’t agree with them. So far roughly 65 percent of people who have appealed their home values have seen changes, and Jones says people should wait until all reviews are heard before demanding the process start all over again or be thrown out.
Bentley’s proposal asked Jones to come back to the commission with a recommended auditor, the scope of work involved in such an audit and how much an investigation would cost the county. The audit would have to be done within 60 days of being assigned and would provide recommendations to the county for how to “correct errors” in the 2011 revaluation. The crowd, many of which came from the Cornelius area, flashed “Fix It” signs at commissioners and shouted that their tax values had increased anywhere from 20 to 150 percent. Homeowners argue that shouldn’t be the case due to the recession and foreclosures, though the tax assessor’s office has said people have to take into account that it had been eight years since the last revaluation, and the most recent process also took into account positive changes in the market since then.
The proposal looked like it would fall down party lines before three commissioners – Jennifer Roberts, Neil Cooksey and Harold Cogdell – stepped away to broker a deal that didn’t exactly please the crowd, but will move forward on figuring out what, if anything, went wrong with the 2011 revaluation.
The new proposal, which passed 6-3 with Jim Pendergraph, George Dunlap and Bentley joining Roberts, Cooksey and Cogdell, instructs Jones to come back to the commission June 19 with information on conducting a review. It also instructs Jones to examine how much it would cost, and what it would take for the county to do, if commissioners wanted to order another revaluation in 2014 or 2015.
What the proposal likely won’t do, Cooksey told the crowd, is grant new appeals to people who have already been turned down. But he hopes it will provide new avenues for homeowners to explore who previously thought they were unable to appeal their home’s value due to the confusing nature of the process.
Seventeen people signed up to speak Tuesday night, with almost all urging the board to either audit the revaluation or redo it as soon as possible.
“It’s a matter of simple fairness and common sense,” said one man, who represented Fourth Ward. “This isn’t about a bunch of rich people.”
The man said he knew two people who may lose their homes because their property taxes are now too high for them to pay. Pendergraph, the county commissioner, talked about a man who may lose the property his family has owned on Park Road for around 100 years because his taxes increased so much.
“Why are so many people upset about their revaluation if there isn’t something wrong?” Pendergraph asked, saying the county has lost the trust of residents and must let an outside agency look to see if anything was done wrong.
The county needs to “find out what happened and not let it happen again,” Pendergraph added.