Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting to the bottom of revaluation mess

Mecklenburg County's property tax revaluation socked a lot of residents in the wallet last year. That's not unusual, but with property values plummeting for years leading up to the reassessment, the sticker shock for many was especially surprising. The fact that property values have continued to fall since Jan. 1, 2011, has only made some residents feel even more cheated.

Some of the grousing has little basis. The point of a revaluation, required by state law, is to ensure that tax values closely resemble actual market values. That keeps the tax burden from getting out of whack. Without it, people whose home values have been stagnant since the previous assessment would be paying more than their share. People whose values have risen a lot would be getting an artificial break. Even a perfect revaluation will lead to grumbling from those who are enjoying a run-up in their property's value.

But Mecklenburg's 2011 revaluation prompted some serious questions. The effect of foreclosures on values was not treated the same across the county. There were few comparables in some areas. Pockets of the county were assessed values that seemed out of step with the market. Some individual assessments seemed way out of line. And communication around the appeals process was not what it should have been. Assessors saw a record number of appeals.

That's why we're glad the four Republicans on the Mecklenburg board of commissioners are raising the issue at the commissioners' meeting Tuesday night. Karen Bentley, with support from the board's other three Republicans, is calling for an outside audit of the entire process. As importantly, she is trying to have another revaluation done as quickly as possible, which would mean having it completed by Jan. 1, 2014.

Democrats on the board should see this as good governance, not a political fight. Maintaining faith in the tax system's legitimacy is vital, and that faith has been shaken hard. An independent audit could ascertain what went right, what went wrong, what can be fixed immediately and what should be done differently next time.

In her agenda item, Bentley says: "As Commissioners, it is our obligation to ensure the fairness of this process and to hold all involved accountable for executing this State-mandated function in a manner that is transparent, trustworthy and responsive to the taxpayer." We agree, and believe restoring faith with residents is worth the cost of the audit, which Bentley pegs as up to $50,000.

The whole affair has one party taking the opposite role of the one it usually takes. It's the Republicans who want to spend $50,000 in taxpayer money on the audit. And it's the Republicans -- a group generally wary of property revaluations as a sneaky way to raise taxes -- who want to speed things up and do another one as soon as possible. In this case, they are right on both counts.

-- Taylor Batten


Jo O'Keefe said...

I could not tell how much the property values decreased. Ours in Brunswick County decreased 29 percent last Spring. My house is worth less than I paid for it 9 1/2 years ago.