Tomorrow's editorial tonight:
Assessor Alexander right to slow things down at Lake Norman
Revaluation always riles taxpayers, but Mecklenburg County’s 2011 assessment raised so many questions that the outcome is in limbo more than a year after homeowners started receiving their new values. So we applaud Mecklenburg tax assessor Garrett Alexander for listening, finally, to Cornelius taxpayers and vowing to determine if they were treated fairly. It will, we hope, be a start on restoring faith in the process countywide.
Alexander, to be sure, was in a tough spot with this revaluation. His office was required by law to perform it, but in a turbulent real estate market like Mecklenburg hasn’t seen in modern times. A run-up in values was followed by the real estate crash. There were few comparable sales to use to set values, and foreclosures and other distressed sales were rampant.
That all led to almost 42,000 residential appeals – an all-time high. Confusion about how the values were set and complaints about poor communication from Alexander’s office also seem to be at an all-time high.
Amid that backdrop, Alexander met with Cornelius residents and public officials Friday to hear concerns about how their properties were valued and how their appeals have been handled. Monday, Alexander said his staff would review the valuations for the Lake Norman area and he would seek to postpone the area’s appeals hearings while that was done – something Cornelius leaders requested in January.
Alexander was right to slow things down. Cornelius residents pointed to a variety of inconsistencies, some of which they are expected to detail at tonight’s county commissioners meeting. But homeowners in other parts of the county believe their tax values were inflated, too.
The tax assessor’s acknowledgement Monday that one part of the county needs to be reviewed suggests that some or all of the rest of the county should be too. That may become a partisan fight, but even Democrat Jennifer Roberts, the former commissioners chairman, agreed on that point in January.
"We need to take into account that other neighborhoods in the county have brought forward individual concerns similar to these," Roberts wrote in an email to commissioners and staff. "If we decide to alter the process in any way for any neighborhood – if it is legal or possible – we need to alter the process for all out of fairness."
While they’re looking at that, commissioners should better explain why the effect of foreclosures was included in some parts of town but not others.
The tax assessor’s office probably did the best it could in setting values in an unstable market. And the Board of Equalization and Review has been working long hours sorting through appeals.
But the values were clearly set indefensibly high for thousands of homeowners. And while Alexander’s office held public meetings leading up to the revaluation, clear explanations for rejecting appeals have been as common lately as eager homebuyers with good credit.
We’ve said before that revaluation, done right, is not about raising taxes. It’s about assigning the tax burden fairly, so you don’t pay taxes on a value that is higher or lower than you deserve. Residents’ faith in that premise has taken a hit, and commissioners and Alexander should do all they can to restore it.
Posted by the Observer editorial board
Monday, March 5, 2012
Tomorrow's editorial tonight: