By ANDREW WILKINS and DAVID BORAKS
A crowd of protesters greeted Gov. Pat McCrory as he arrived at Cornelius Town Hall Friday afternoon to sign a bill that requires Mecklenburg County to redo its flawed 2011 property valuation. Protesters weren’t interested in that bill, but carried signs objecting to other measures lawmakers have passed or debated this summer on issues ranging from voting access to education to abortion.
In a private ceremony just after 4:30pm, McCrory signed Senate Bill 159. The signing came after he and the bill’s local sponsor, state Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Cornelius), recognized local officials who helped push for the law.
The bill was the first that McCrory – a former Charlotte mayor – has signed in Meckelnburg County. “I wanted to go where the harm was done,” McCrory said in an interview.
The legislation not only requires new appraisals, but also gives the county the authority to issue refunds, which were not allowed under the state law governing revaluations.
The scene outside the closed event was entirely different. About 80 to 100 protesters began gathering at mid-afternoon outside Town Hall to express their displeasure over policies being pushed by the Republican-led legislature.
Some of the protesters also have been traveling to the legislature in Raleigh for recent “Moral Mondays” demonstrations. Their signs carried messages including “I am woman, hear me roar,” “McCrory have you lost your mind,” and “Restrict Voters’ Access in America? Shameful.”
“The current restrictions and laws are making our state so unwelcoming. What businesses would want to come to a state with this reputation,” said one woman from Davidson.
A Cornelius resident who said she is a Charlotte Mecklenburg school teacher, said “McCrory’s role has been to lay low and let education cuts take place. I’m concerned for my students.” She said did not vote for McCrory, but thought he was a moderate. “I was fooled,” she said.
ProgressNC, a liberal political organization, brought a sign mounted on the back of a truck urging: “Keep Your Word, Gov. McCrory,” noting that the governor had promised during his campaign not to accept any restrictions on abortion.
The Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that tightens regulations for abortion clinics and adopts other new requirements. McCrory said Friday in an interview that he will sign it.
FIXING THE REVALUATION
Protests also were at the root of the bill that McCrory signed Friday in Cornelius. An outcry over the revaluation grew out of meetings in Cornelius, where lakefront property owners first questioned high or widely varying appraisals in the 2011 revaluation. Their allegations eventually became a chorus of critics around the county demanding refunds for property owners who were overcharged.
Gov. McCrory and Tarte both recognized Cornelius resident Bob Deaton for launching the effort to investigate the revaluation.
“Bob Deaton is the reason we’re sitting in this room today,” Tarte said. Tarte said Deaton’s work helped bring the issue to the attention of state officials.
Tarte, who formerly was Cornelius Mayor, and state Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Matthews) originally introduced the legislation after a consultant found the revaluation to be flawed.
McCrory praised Tarte for his work, saying “he brought a mayor’s attitude to Raleigh, like I’m trying to do as well.”
McCrory said Deaton “did it the right way,” saying grass-roots efforts like the one he led are a “beautiful thing” about our Democracy.
McCrory said it was great to be back jn Mecklenburg County, and acknowledged the protesters outside. “It’s great to receive feedback,” he joked.
Besides the governor and Tarte, the event also included Mecklenburg County Commissioners Pat Cotham and Karen Bentley, and state Rep. Charles Jeter. Brawley was stuck in traffic and missed the signing but showed up at Town Hall later.
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.
WHAT THE BILL MEANS
Tarte estimated that about 30 percent of property owners would be affected by the do-over of the revaluation.
He said he doesn’t think the re-do will be complete until 2015. The 2011 revaluation do-over now becomes a budget issue for both Mecklenburg County and area towns: They’ll have to come up with money for refunds over the next few fiscal years.
“It’s going to end up being a massive amount of money that they’re going to have to return to taxpayers, that they took,” Tarte said earlier this month.
He said most local governments are likely to dip into reserves to pay refunds.
The revaluation “do-over” also could have the opposite effect: Some property owners may end up owing more as some properties are revalued upward.
He thinks only 5-8 percent of property owners will owe more, as their properties are found to have been undervalued. He said the revaluation will affect all types of homes, from large lakefront homes to smaller ones.
“The bottom line is to ensure fair and accurate property values for all our citizens,” Tarte said Friday.
See the bill text and history on NCLeg.net
See our past coverage of the revaluation issue on CorneliusNews.net.