Private company would have to be hired for expedited property tax revaluation
by Mike Parks
If Mecklenburg County commissioners want a new property tax revaluation by 2014, they’ll likely have to spend around $9 million of taxpayer money to get it done.
Cary Saul, director of the county’s Land Use & Environmental Services department, said the county doesn’t have the staff or right resources to do a revaluation in 2014 without hiring an outside company to run the process. They may not even be able to do it by 2015, though many residents are clamoring to get a new revaluation done as soon as possible.
“In 2015 we may be in better shape to undertake a (revaluation) depending on whether all these appeals get cleared in the next year or so,” Saul told commissioners at their meeting June 19.
But county staff expects to be fighting over property tax appeals with residents for the next two years, Saul said. The Board of Equalization and Review won’t be done with appeals until September, and then the property tax commission starts hearing around 1,000 appeals. The other problem is the county is about to start updating the computer-assisted mass appraisal system used for revaluations. That process will take at least 18 months.
Add to that an audit that will soon begin on the 2011 revaluation, and Saul says the puzzle pieces may not fit together in time to get a new revaluation on the table by the 2014 or 2015 timeline.
Some residents have argued the revaluation must have been flawed because they saw the values of their homes increase last year despite the recession and housing market collapse. The county’s tax assessor’s office argues the increase came because the last revaluation was in 2003, so, despite the housing market woes, home values have still increased since then.
The county voted June 5 to hire an outside firm to review the revaluation process, but it’s still unclear exactly how long a revaluation review would take and how many changes the county would have to make to the process depending on the recommendations of that review.
“If it takes six months,” Saul said of the review, “I’m not sure even a private company could do a full (revaluation) in 2014.”
One company gave the county a price of about $8.3 million to conduct a revaluation in 2014. The company would handle the actual revaluation and then “defend all the appeals,” Saul said. But the county would still have to handle all the mailings and notices for the revaluation and appeals process, bringing the cost for a private revaluation to around $9 million. It would likely cost around $10 million for the county to do the revaluation itself – if there’s even the staffing for the undertaking.
Saul cautioned commissioners on moving in that direction, saying the county’s current assessment sales ratio – or each home’s current assessed value versus the current sales price – doesn’t dictate doing another revaluation right now and it’s likely homeowners wouldn’t see a change in their homes’ values or property tax bills.
“So, we would say if you did another (revaluation) in 2014 and your equity doesn’t change and the values don’t change very much, you are setting the public up for an expectation that all their values are going to be lower than they were, and that may not happen… and that their taxes are going to be lower because their values are going to be lower and that may not happen,” Saul said.
But Bill James, south Mecklenburg’s commissioner, said calling for another revaluation isn’t a matter of equity, it’s a matter of fairness if something was done wrong.
“I think the reason for looking at the revaluation in 2014 is because if we find that there are these flaws, as all these people have been coming down and saying, then we have an obligation to fix that,” he said. “And since you can’t redo the 2011 revaluation, or so we’ve been told, the next alternative is to do one in 2014.
“I don’t think it’s a regular situation. … This is an extraordinary event that has to do with problems … in the way that the revaluations were set in various neighborhoods.”
No vote was taken on the issue.