CHARLOTTE – Mecklenburg County property appraisals are about to take a trip back to Jan. 1, 2011, if state leaders pass a bill that would address the flawed 2011 revaluations.
Senator Jeff Tarte – the former Mayor of Cornelius – and Representative Bill Brawley of Matthews announced the bill in a March 4 press conference at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.
The bill requires three things: A cleanup of the county’s property tax base, issuing refunds to homeowners whose property tax prices were too high and a complete redo of the 2011 revaluation process.
In the 2011 appraisals, numerous property owners had their home values appraised too high, raising the property tax bills so much that foreclosure became an issue for some, Brawley said.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham said she spoke with hundreds of homeowners, who explained what happened with their tax bill increases “and what needs to happen."
“From all that, and listening to other people talk about it, we’ve really learned there’s been a lot of problems,” Cotham said. “It’s important that we get to (solving them).”
Tarte said the revaluation efforts are all about “doing what is right and fair (for property owners)."
“That hasn’t been going on for a while from the tax assessor’s office. A minimum (value) has been obfuscated and a maximum has been completely ignored by the (county appraisal) staff,” he said. “This isn’t about politics at this point.”
The bill would require Mecklenburg County to conduct a general reappraisal of properties within the next 18 months, with at least one certified appraiser per 4,750 homes handling the appraisals, or have a qualified appraisal service expand the county’s evidence of inequity to cover all of Mecklenburg County.
Brawley said the number of people who staffed the appraisals in 2011 – when properties were grossly overvalued – was as small as some of the tiniest counties in the state, which prompted the new appraiser-per-home number. Some of the overvalued properties may have been a result of the low staffing.
“Those who have been over-assessed the most will be addressed first,” Brawley said, adding there was no immediate timetable for when homeowners could expect refunds, but he thinks the process will be done as expeditiously as possible.
“As a rule of thumb, you need a certified appraiser for every 7,500 parcels,” he said. “On an eight-year plan when you’ve done field checking for the last revaluation, you need no fewer than one per 5,000. It’s been 17 years since field checking for Mecklenburg. It can be outsourced.”
Mecklenburg County has already brought in independent company Pearson’s Appraisal Service to assess the initial damages caused by the mistaken 2011 revaluations.
In a review of 151 random neighborhoods, the Pearson report determined 15 had major equity issues and 34 had minor issues.
Some properties were undervalued in the appraisals as well, Brawley added.
He said he was very confident the bill will pass.
“I expect they’ll have a very easy time with this,” Brawley said.
The first legislative work done for the bill came in summer 2011, when an ad hoc committee of legislators, that included Brawley, met to discuss the revaluation.
“You have to treat everybody equally,” Brawley said. “Most of the problems (once the bill passes) will be in refunds. The worst effect (from the 2011 revaluations) was seen in low-income neighborhoods. Our attempt has been to bring revaluation in tune with what it should have been: No more, no less.”
The bill was filed in Raleigh the day of the press conference and is headed to House and Senate committees. If the General Assembly approves the bill’s exact language as written, it’ll go to Governor Pat McCrory for review.
Once McCrory signs off on the bill, it will take affect immediately. The bi-partisan group who filed the bill consisted of Tarte, Brawley, Representative Tricia Cotham and senators Joel Ford and Bob Rucho.
Once residents begin to receive their refunds, Brawley said they’ll have an opportunity to appeal the result.
The bill won’t affect just Mecklenburg County residents.
Brawley said 75 counties in the state could be affected by the bill, “but Mecklenburg is one that definitely will,” he said.
Tarte said he discussed the revaluation with mayors from all of Mecklenburg County’s municipalities, in addition to Charlotte leaders and local residents.
“Everybody’s had an input,” he said.