Monday, March 5, 2012

It's not too late to get revaluation right

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


Anonymous said...

I cannot believe I am reading this editorial, but I am thrilled. The next thing you know, we might be seeing somebody on the Observer staff advocate for spending more equally on CMS students in the suburbs. I don't expect Alexander to offer an explanation of how the "stigma" discount was considered fair by his office, the county manager or the BOCC. But, I hope the Observer will insist on an explanation until one is forthcoming, whether it is believable or not.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me why the Observer, in its many stories on the reval, never reported on the "stigma adjustment" that was given to the crescent shaped part of the county running west to east across the north central part of the county? I never heard of it until Alexander referred to it at a BOCC meeting recently when responding to the mention of emails sent by his office to some commissioners. It would seem that any self respecting news organization would have felt duty bound to INFORM the tax-paying citizens about such an impactful move. I always thought that informing the citizens of what their elected officials were doing was the fourth estate's reason for being.
Since this "stigma adjust" was made by the assessor in districts that are largely democratic, I can understand the the Obsderver might have been fearful of upsetting Jennifer, Vilma, George and Dumont, but isn't it your duty to expose dirty little secrets

Redlight said...

This is good news. I can't speak for the rest of the county, but North Mecklenburg evaluations made little sense.

I'm still waiting for a date to revue my appeal.

Anonymous said...

49% now don't pay any income taxes and this paper is lecturing us about this incompetent sham that had the suburban white homeowners right smack in the middle of the liberal utopia bull's-eye claiming this is about "assigning tax burden fairly"?

We have seen your definition of fair.

Anonymous said...

The city of Charlotte and county of Mecklenburg, using the Stigma assessment for property tax revaluation is nothing more than redistribution of wealth, taking from those that have a little, seniors that have lived in their homes for many years and giving it to the do-nothings in the county. My property value was 35k in 1994, 70k in 2003, and 119.4K in 2010. The city raised the value of the dirt and not much of anything else. I suggest they are modern Robin Hoods in reverse. Many seniors are having to do without and other county citizens are just moving out of Mecklenburg. If I could, I would be living in South Carolina right now but health problems are preventing me from moving and I could not get anywhere near the amount of money the property is valued. Homes around me have been selling for 50k to 100k less than their tax values and mostly to construction or other companies that are going to remodel them for resale. It's a complex problem that many home owners cannot overcome. I suggest the entire city council and county commission, along with city/county managers be replaced. Also, out with Mr. Foxx and others associated with the tax department. Stigma, stigma! In my opinion, all are a sorry bunch of crooks

Anonymous said...

So, the Observer came to the conclusion that the 'burbs are being treated unfairly...where have they been? Bill James has been talking about the unfairness of the Stigma Adjustment since September.
It's great to see that Cornelius is getting some attention, but what about south Charlotte, Matthews and Pineville? The whole process has been corrupted.

Anonymous said...

...and yet this is only half the issue.

The real scandal was the BoCC voting to leave the multiplier essentially "as is" rather than adjusting for a revenue neutral reval.

The end result was a massive tax increase for homeowners that went unreported or at the very least, misrepresented by the Observer.

Anonymous said...

The Observer Editors know that the poop is about to be oscillated all over this County.
We now know about the "Stigma Adjustment" otherwise known as the directive from Jennifer "We are all in this together" Roberts and the Liberal Charlotte Chamber to artificially increase the "tax values" of properties in Districts 1, 5 and 6 (by the way, kudos to Cornelius and the folks in the North - but don't forget that Districts 5 and 6 were hit even harder by artificially high assessments). It was also the directive to lay a "Stigma Adjustment" over the top of the Democrat base.
People in the South Burbs need to get P@$$^& OFF about this and REVOLT!!!! And there just happens to be a way for South Mecklenburg residents to get involved (South Meck being Districts 5 and 6 at least!!). It's called SMART - South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers. The next SMART Meeting is THIS THURSDAY, March 8th at Raintree Country Club at 6:00 PM
You'll also learn more about the SPARK - SMART initiative to break CMS into at least 3 smaller, locally controlled Independent School Districts!

Anonymous said...

The effect of revaluation on me was a 74% increase in total. If the numbers were true, I’d be doing alright; but no. I’ve had to file 10 appeals. One year of frustrating nail biting not knowing if I’d get my values in line. Even with proof, most were initially given no change by the assessor. I’ve seen lots of reval cycles but never had to do board appeals before. The board ruled my house was high by 270k. From where I stand, figures this time were extremely high, with strong resistance to lowering. In this economy, I don’t get the motivation in defending values to keep them high rather than low.

Frequency of revaluations is not the problem, the issue is inaccuracy and inconsistent results, The reval was postponed 2 years. An assessor’s clerk told me in some areas land value didn’t get readjusted. If true, data as far back as 07 may have been affecting lot values which would explain most appeals.

The Assessor suffers from severe staffing cuts. Also, they lack proper tools and there’s no accountability. Staffers train in mass appraisal methods, but many are not certified appraisers or Realtor members which presents 2 root problems: they don’t have MLS access, and they’re in no way liable for results. Without MLS they see houses currently for sale and houses that sold, but miss the bulk - thousands of expired &withdrawn listings that sat unsold, with price cuts, until sellers gave up. If you don‘t align values with these, of course you get a rosy picture. Assessor Chuck Hicks says it’s good to show them failed listings they can’t track which can skew valuations. Well yeah. An assessment should not be set higher than something similar won’t sell for. But why is it on us to find and report these?

Assessors could be held socially accountable like teachers. Take the ones with high ratios of winning appeals filed on their work and discipline them. Or maybe the work should be somewhat privatized.

The theoretical goal should be zero appeals We should not have to fight the county over what our houses are worth. Citizens deserve better. COmmissioners must make improvements to get it right and if they need to raise taxes, then have that discussion. The head assessor is appointed by county commissioners so politically, it all comes back to them to fix the problem of over-assessment. They even have the power to replace the head and change the department by farming some work to real certified appraisers. I ask them to form a subcommittee to study this. Perhaps things could be cheaper & more accurate with less appeals resource consuming than the current system.