By Aaron Burns and Jackson Sveen
HUNTERSVILLE – The process of correcting Mecklenburg County’s failed 2011 property appraisals is one bill and many hours of appraisal research from being completed.
The bill, sent to state House and Senate committees on March 4, involves a cleanup of the county’s tax base, a revaluation redo and refunds to over-issued taxpayers.
Residents whose homes were overvalued in the 2011 revaluation – which led to property higher taxes – will be the ones up for refunds once the revaluation redo is finished. The most severe overvaluation cases will be refunded first.
But don’t expect taxpayers to have to pay more if their property was undervalued, according to County Commissioner Karen Bentley. She and other leaders disagree on this point.
“By law, the county cannot retroactively bill a taxpayer,” Bentley said on March 11. “The new tax bill resulting from the upward adjustment of the (revaluation’s) tax value will be effective from the date of discovery. “
On March 13, during an interview with the Herald Weekly, Cornelius Commissioner John Bradford had a different take on payments.
“I think it’s important for people to know that our legislators went through great lengths to make sure the bill is constitutional,” Bradford said on March 13. “While the bill will require the county to correct refunds for anyone overcharged, because of the inflated appraisals, it would also require payments from anyone that was undervalued.”
Bradford said that those properties that were undervalued would be viewed as a tax-free loan with no interest.
Overvalued properties will receive the difference paid with 5 percent interest, he added.
However, Bentley said residents are in the clear if their homes have their properties redone and the new, adjusted total means they should have paid more taxes in 2011. Low appraisal staff numbers were a major reason the revaluations caused so much trouble, according to Representative Bill Brawley.
Work began on fixing the revaluations not long after the results came out.
Bentley said Pearson’s Appraisal Service, an independent firm, “is reworking all tax neighborhoods in the county. There will be properties whose 2011 assessment was overstated and some where the value was understated.
“As on the initial revaluation, the 2011 (Uniform) Schedule of Values will be used, not current market values.”
Pearson’s Appraisal’s initial review of 151 random neighborhoods reported equity issues with 49 neighborhoods.
Senator and former Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte was part of the bi-partisan group who filed the bill. Tarte championed the cause for a reasonable and successful revaluation.
“The bottom line is that we have to have fair and accurate property values for all property owners in the Mecklenburg County,” Tarte said. “That includes commercial and residential and both undervalued and overvalued (properties).”
The first step, Tarte said, in achieving accurate property values is to clean up the database.
“(The database) is inherently flawed with lots of errors in it,” Tarte said.
Since it will be 2015, and maybe even 2016, before the revaluations are completed, legislators are suggesting the county redo the 2011 revaluation whenever they work on the year they are currently in. That would save the county from the cost of having two revaluations done.
Tarte said the county and its seven municipalities – Charlotte, Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville – should be prepared for significant refunds.
When he was Cornelius mayor, Tarte said the town anticipated the refunds and collected about $2 million extra from the revaluation.
“Everyone has to recognize that this isn’t solved yet,” he continued. “An introduction of the legislation is what I said I would do (about) this back in August. Nothing has really changed. It’s just unfortunate that the nature of the course of events has run its outcome.”
Bradford served under Tarte while the revaluations were done.
The Cornelius Town Board has been a very vocal municipality through the process of the revaluation, Bradford said.
In May of 2012, the board introduced a resolution asking for a third-party auditor to come in and look at the appraisals. Pearson’s Appraisal took the job.
In November of 2012, the board asked for a complete revaluation redo based on Pearson’s findings.
“Tarte represents more than just Cornelius now,” Bradford said. “I think (Tarte) has a vested interest because he was mayor when the resolution was introduced, but he’s very passionate about taking care of all his constituents.”
As owner of Park Avenue Properties in Cornelius, Bradford added the legislation could boost confidence of individuals looking to move to Mecklenburg County.