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County property taxes likely to rise even though rate remains the same

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Commission approves early revaluation date to correct “inequities”

On a 4-3 vote along party lines, the Democratic-controlled commission voted to begin revaluing county property parcels in January, 2017, sidestepping an existing law that sets eight years as the interval for that process to take place.

The last reappraisal was enacted in 2013, which would have meant that another would not have been due until 2021. But Commission – or at least its Democratic majority – said calling for a new survey only halfway through the established cycle is necessary to correct “inequities” in the valuation scale.

In fact, they say, if the county itself doesn’t go ahead and start the revaluation on its own, Raleigh could compel them to do it.

The revaluation discussion was first aired publicly at Commission’s regular meeting on March 1, just two weeks before the March 15 primary election. At that time County Tax Director Gary Roberts made a presentation in which he stated that county- assessed property values should fall within 95 per cent of a given parcel’s market value. However, he said, many county plots are valuated, for tax purposes, at far less than that ratio, some as low as half of market value. Roberts said the present structure places an unfair burden on taxpayers living outside the city, a conclusion shared by Commissioner Holly Jones.

Roberts said the State Department of Revenue has determined the county is only taxing at about 85 per cent of market value, a rate which he said the state considers unacceptably low. That being the case, he said, Raleigh could compel the county to bring its assessment ratio into line and he advised that the county should be proactive and advance the reappraisal schedule “without having to be told to do so by the state.”

Roberts said such an action would take the form of the state’s giving the county a deadline to have a new valuation in place; however it was not clear what measures the state might take to ensure compliance.

Roberts submitted a draft resolution and Vice Chairman Brownie Newman, an announced candidate for Commission Chairman in the fall elections, introduced it.

But Commissioner Ellen Frost was absent and the ensuing vote came in tied 3-3 along party lines, with Newman and fellow Democrats Jones and outgoing chairman David Gantt voting for it and Republicans Mike Fryar, Joe Belcher and Miranda DeBruhl (who at the time was running against Newman but later resigned and abandoned the race) voting against.

The resulting tie defeated the revaluation proposal, but only temporarily. It resurfaced at Commission’s meeting on April 5. And this time Frost was present. The motion, which thus passed 4-3, says in part:

“the current level of assessed real estate values for the 2,600 assessment neighborhoods in the County range[s] from 50% to 85% of market value which creates an inequity for real estate property tax liabilities for citizens in our County because some citizens will pay more property taxes than they would if all properties were valued at 100% market value.”

The resolution also “authorize[s] the County Manager or Tax Assessor to retain the services of independent appraisal consultants as deemed necessary and appropriate in their discretion with expertise in particular fields of appraisal to assist in reaching a fair determination of value in accordance with North Carolina General Statutes §105-299 so long as the fees for such services are within the then current budget of the Tax Assessor.”

The resolution also stipulates that from here on out, beginning with the January, 2017, revaluation, the reappraisal process is to take place every eight years. (Unless, as in the present case, it doesn’t.)

During public comment at the April 5 meeting, county activist Jerry Rice questioned the accuracy of the March 1 minutes as they related to the resolution vote, He also said the tax values “were not correctly assessed,” a statement echoed by Belcher.

State senatorial candidate Lisa Baldwin also appeared and spoke against advancement of the revaluation date. Baldwin later wrote, “In January, our homes’ values will be raised by 15-50%. Thus, property taxes will go up even though the rate of taxation (60.4 cents per $100 of valuation) stays the same. This decision was made … even as citizens voiced their objections.”

The passage of the revaluation measure, and its implications for county taxpayers, generated little notice by local mainstream media. The Asheville Citizen-Times called the March discussion and vote “a confusing election-year fight.” WLOS-TV filed a report in which Roberts said assessment inequality is particularly noticeable in upward-trending neighborhoods such as the “South Slope,” West Asheville, and the River Arts District.

Roberts was unavailable for comment, so the Tribune asked County Manager Wanda Greene to comment on his rationale that the county should proceed with its revaluation before it might be compelled to do so by the state.

“The sales assessment ratio shows we are below market and need to do the revaluation,” Greene replied. “Once we know new values, the commissioners decide if and how to change the tax rate.” She did not address the question of possible state action.

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