By DAVID BORAKS
Area lawmakers on Monday formally joined the push to re-do Mecklenburg County’s flawed 2011 property revaluation, filing House and Senate bills that would require the county to correct problems and allow refunds to those overcharged because of inflated appraisals. The bill also would require additional payments for those whose properties were undervalued.
“It’s going to require that the county engage in a process that will completely redo the 2011 property tax revaluation,” state Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Cornelius) said in an interview. “It’s to ensure that every property in Mecklenburg County, commercial or residential, has an accurate and fair market value for their property.”
Sen. Tarte and state Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Matthews) unveiled the legislation at a Monday morning press conference at Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center. Other sponsors of the legislation include Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Matthews), Sen. Joel Ford (D-Charlotte), and Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Charlotte).
Also at Monday’s event were County Commission chair Pat Cotham, other Mecklenburg County elected official and citizens who have pushed county officials to correct the revaluation.
Pearson’s Appraisal Service, a consultant hired by the Mecklenburg County Commission last year found flaws with the revaluation – including a lack of equity in appraisals within neighborhoods. Critics have been demanding refunds for property owners who were overcharged.
County Commissioners voted last month to support passage of a bill to make refunds legal. Meanwhile, Pearson’s Appraisal is conducting an expanded review of the 2011 revaluation, to find other neighborhoods with big inequities in property values.
It has the support of the local legislative delegation as well as “broad support” in both the House and Senate, Sen. Tarte said. He’s optimistic it will pass the full legislature “quickly and easily.”
“I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. This is really beyond partisan politics. … It crosses socio-economic lines,” he said.
Assuming the bill does pass and is signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, it still could be several years before property owners see refunds – or new bills. The first step to correcting problems, Sen. Tarte said, will be to “clean up” the county’s property tax database, which he thinks may be in violation of state law. He said the assessor’s office is require to visually inspect properties. “They have not done that for 17 years,” he said.
One possibility is that the county could decide to do two simultaneous revaluations in 2015 or 2016 – one for that year and one assessing values as of 2011.
“The watchword (for taxpayers) is going to be patience,” Sen. Tarte said. “It’s probably a two-year effort to get the database cleaned up. It’s going to require walking and visually inspecting the properties,” he said.
The bill would apply to communities statewide, though Mecklenburg County is clearly its target. It would only affect communities whose last revaluation was in tax years 2008 through 2012, years when the bill’s sponsors say the economic downturn most severely affected home prices.
A REVENUE HIT FOR GOVERNMENTS
Redoing the 2011 revaluation could have a negative effect on revenues for Mecklenburg County and area towns. Officials believe that new appraisals are likely to result in more refunds than higher tax bills, which would mean a loss of revenue for local governments.
Those whose property is found to have been overvalued will be owed a refund, with interest. Those found to have underpaid won’t owe interest, since the error was the county’s.
Sen. Tarte, who until January was mayor of Cornelius, said in November he thinks local officials now should consider putting money in escrow to pay refunds in the future, because the sum could be high. He guessed at the time it could be $2 million a year for the town of Cornelius alone, significantly more for the county.
If that happens, the county and its towns would have to find money for refunds in their general fund budgets, or dip into their reserves.
“The bottom line is we’ve collected money that doesn’t belong to the county or municipalities, it belongs to individuals,” Sen. Tarte said.
Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker on Monday welcomed the legislation. “Anything that moves us closer to ending this debacle is a good thing,” she said after a Town Board gathering at Acropolis Restaurant in Cornelius.
RELATED COVERAGE AND LINKS
Read the bill as filed Monday, on NCLeg.net
Download a summary and background about the bill (PDF).
See all past coverage of the revaluation issue on CorneliusNews.net.
Listen to WFAE-FM’s story about this morning’s press conference, “Careful What You Wish For? Bill Provides Refunds – And Back Taxes – For Reval Errors” (Can’t see the player or hear the audio? CLICK HERE»
Here’s the full text of the press release issued at Monday’s press conference in Charlotte:
Bi-Partisan Group Led By Rep. Bill Brawley, Rep. Tricia Cotham, Sen. Joel Ford, Sen. Bob Rucho, and Sen. Jeff Tarte Jointly File Bill To Correct Flawed 2011 Property Revaluation
This legislation will enable all Mecklenburg County property owners to receive a fair and accurate market value for their property.
CHARLOTE – Mecklenburg County legislators led by Representative Bill Brawley (R-NC103) and Senator Jeff Tarte (R-NC41) filed companion bills today in the North Carolina House and Senate to correct the property value inequities created by the 2011 Mecklenburg County revaluation. The bills were filed Monday morning in Raleigh while the primary sponsors discussed the bill’s implications at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, NC.
Rep. Brawley and Sen. Tarte were joined by Sen. Ford, Sen. Rucho, and Rep. Cotham as well as by Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Pat Cotham. Chairman Cotham and other Mecklenburg County Commissioners have worked closely with Rep. Brawley and Sen. Tarte to ensure that the bill will address the identified problems with the 2011 revaluation. Chair Cotham introduced Rep. Brawley and Sen. Tarte to explain the bill and its positive outcomes for the citizens of Mecklenburg County. She specifically thanked them for their leadership in crafting a legislative solution that enables the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to address the problems associated with the last property revaluation.
“The need to fix the 2011 property revaluation is an issue that transcends politics or political parties,” said Sen. Jeff Tarte. “When this was brought to my attention in early 2011 by Bob Deaton, I knew that we would have to correct this injustice to the citizens of Mecklenburg County. We have a plan that will return money improperly taken by the County and municipalities. This bill will accomplish that by ensuring fair and accurate property values for all Mecklenburg County property owners.”
The bill was drafted in a collaborative effort with the help of many to ensure the constitutionality as well as to establish fair and accurate property values for all property owners of Mecklenburg County. The bill will require the clean up of the property tax data base, the eventual issuance of refunds, and a complete redo of the 2011 property revaluation.
“The bill will allow Mecklenburg County to correct the 2011 property revaluation, and the tax bills issued since that time within the law and the constitution,” said Rep. Brawley. “The work done by Legislative Staff with consultation with the North Carolina Department of Revenue and UNC School of Government have crafted a bill to protect the rights of everyone involved.”
Chair Cotham, a Mecklenburg County Democratic Commissioner, and the Republican legislators praised the members of both parties’ ability and willingness to work together for the betterment of Mecklenburg County. “This is proof that your county government and state government,” said Cotham, “can work together to reestablish trust and confidence in your Mecklenburg County tax assessment.”