Buncombe County’s Compassionate Tax Director Gary Roberts provided the public, by way of the commissioners’ meeting, with an overview of what to expect from the latest revaluation. Residents will soon be receiving notices of their new property appraisals by mail. Some businesses have already received theirs, but others are undergoing last-minute revisions.
Pressed by Commissioner Holly Jones to give a blanket statement about the direction of the revals, Roberts indicated that would not be easy. There are forty-three taxing districts in the county. Neighborhoods are evaluated together. Residential properties are evaluated based on the sale of qualified comparables. Sales to relatives for $1, foreclosures, and certain bank sales are not included in calculations. Commercial property values might take into consideration land value, replacement cost, depreciation, market value and/or income generated. In developing values, assessors visit properties and talk with lenders, real estate appraisers, general contractors, and representatives from building supply companies.
The state requires revaluations at least every eight years. General statutes also require larger counties to re-assess properties anytime real estate sales values vary more than 15 percent from target values established by the NC Department of Revenue. Revaluations may also occur whenever the commissioners deem it necessary.
If a citizen believes their assessment is in error, they are invited to contact the assessor’s office by completing and returning the Informal Review form attached to their 2013 Value Notice or completing the same form available via the county’s website, buncombecounty.org. They may also schedule a sit-down by calling 250-4940. Complaints should be accompanied by documentation, such as photos, appraisals, and sales documents. Appeals must be filed within thirty days of receipt of the 2013 Value Notice to be heard.
The Equalization Board is expected to be thorough and considerate in evaluating all appeals. Roberts said the people in his department want to hear if they made a mistake. If a citizen is not satisfied with an informal review, they may request a formal review. If they’re still not satisfied, they may appeal the local decision to the state; that failing, they may turn to the courts. Roberts said typically the local board hears 75-100 cases, and only about ten advance to the state level.
Tuesday, commissioners deferred filling five vacancies on the Board of Equalization and Review, as they were waiting for the dust to settle in the contested close race for the seventh commissioner seat. By February, that board should begin hearing fact-based complaints from citizens about assessed values.
Following appeals, the commissioners will determine the new tax rate. As Chair David Gantt articulated, the rate will be “based on the county’s needs.” Local fire districts, school boards, and municipal governments will add to the county’s tax. The county will drop the property tax bills in the mail August 15.
Roberts wished to highlight tax breaks available. Persons earning no more than $28,100 a year, who are permanently disabled or at least 65 years old, may qualify for an exemption equal to the greater of $25,000 or 50 percent of their property value. Persons meeting the aforementioned criteria, who have lived in their houses for at least five years, could be eligible for tax deferments. They would pay only 4 or 5 percent of their income this year, the rest being due at some future date. Disabled veterans or their surviving spouses may also be eligible for a $45,000 exemption.
Another out is available to environmentally-conscious citizens. Property may be assessed based on its current use rather than its highest and best under certain conditions. With a written plan filed with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, citizens may get a writeoff for conserving 20-100 acres of precious flora, fauna, or even stones. Writeoffs are also available for entering into a plan to grow 20 acres of timber expressly for harvest, working 10 acres of land for commercial agriculture, or setting aside 5 acres of land for a small amount of horticultural business each year.
In Other Matters –
Prior to the meeting, Gantt requested a discussion. He whispered to County Attorney Michael Frue, who went into the audience to whisper with somebody else. He returned and whispered to Gantt, then the commissioners broke into two whispering sessions while one continued in the audience. When that was done, Gantt announced there would be no announcement on the status of the seventh commissioner seat.
In an extremely close race, recounts had turned the election-night District 2 victory of Christina Kelley G. Merrill over to contender Ellen Frost. Frost continued to be on top by a smidgeon as the recounting processes were exhausted. Merrill also challenged the decision in court, arguing some of the Warren Wilson students who had early-voted in the wrong district may perhaps have been ineligible. The litigation caused the seat to remain vacant, thereby causing the commissioners to defer meetings and decisions until a full body could be present.
Midway through the commissioners’ meeting, Gantt announced the courts had decided to seat Frost. Following the public meeting, the commissioners recessed before going into closed session for Frost to be officially sworn-in. In the ceremony, Frost, as the others before her, swore multiple times, with her hand on the Bible and begging assistance from Divine Providence, that she would uphold the constitution of the United States and the State of North Carolina.