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Cornelius News

Property owners reel from value increases

Jackie Huffman and Ken Joyner answer questions at the Newsmakers Breakfast

By Debbie Griffin and Dave Vieser.  The property revaluation statements Mecklenburg County released in January gave many business and home owners eye-popping sticker shock due to significant increases during the first countywide assessment process since 2011. There was intense criticism back then.

Each municipal entity within Mecklenburg County—besides Charlotte with the airport—depends on property taxes for more than half of its total revenue.

During the Newsmakers Breakfast at The Peninsula Club Feb. 20, County Tax Assessor Ken Joyner said the total value of real estate in Mecklenburg increased 54 percent, with a median increase of 43 percent for residential property and 77 percent for commercial property. Cornelius followed the same trends.

Some of the increases are stunning: The Publix/Magnolia Plaza valuation on West Catawba near Jetton rose from $11.97 million to $22.3 million

Home values also took off. Attendees responded to an informal survey about the size of their assessment increases:

—0-20 percent, less than five people

—20-40 percent, about 25 people

—40-75 percent, about 15 people

—75-100 percent, about four

—120 percent, one person.

More than 100 people attended the Newsmakers Breakfast, including Mayor Woody Washam; Town Commissioners Denis Bilodeau and Dr. Michael Miltich; and former Mayor and Sen. Jeff Tarte, who is a partner in a valuation appeals firm called Carolina Revaluation Services. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham introduced Joyner.

“I have no skin in the game,” said Joyner. “We simply look at the facts and try to get the assessments right. When it comes to commercial values, we look at three parameters: cost, income and sales. Clearly there has been a significant increase since the last valuation.”

In response to questions, Joyner said producing more online information for commercial properties is at the top of his wish list.

Said Joyner: “We have really good tools and comps for residential properties and I would like to see similar detail in place for commercial properties by the time we start our next reval.”

Jackie Huffman was the other panel expert. She is the assistant town manager in Huntersville and formerly served as Cornelius’ finance director and as Statesville’s assistant finance director. She was introduced by former Cornelius Commissioner Jim Duke.

Before and during the breakfast, Huffman addressed the concept of a “revenue neutral” tax rate, a state-required figure which all municipalities must publish during their budget review.

“What I think most people don’t understand is revenue neutral does not mean each taxpayer pays the same amount of tax each year; revenue neutral means the town’s property-tax collections remained flat comparing taxes the year before the revaluation and the year after the revaluation,” Huffman said. “Revenue neutral is really a tool to be used from the town’s perspective, not individual taxpayers.”

What’s the methodology for commercial property east of I-77?

Photography studio owner Deborah Young said she will appeal her valuations, explaining that she didn’t see abundant evidence to support the value increases of 120 percent at one of her houses on Catawba and 80 percent at another. Joyner reiterated the commercial-valuation criteria of cost, income and sales; he said any of the assessors could share the methodology used to value a specific property.

A homeowner in The Peninsula asked how the value of lakefront property is calculated.

Joyner confirmed that lakefront neighborhoods were once viewed in a more collective sense, but they’re now broken into segments and then examined according to attributes such as views and how they’re positioned.

What about tear downs?

There have been 20 or 30 demolition/new home projects that may result in much higher values even for surrounding properties. Some values have doubled.

“Land is the driving force in value,” Joyner said, adding that land in some areas of the lake simply sells for more than in other areas.

How do appeals and adjustments affect the budgeting process?

Huffman said the cost of appeals is typically an estimated budget contingency. She said it would yield savings if the law changed to allow small property-tax credits, for example less than $5, to be applied to the following year rather than refunded.

“We’ve written checks for 18 cents,” said Huffman. “We’ve written checks for 21 cents,” adding that the postage cost in some cases is greater than the refund.

Should local government be concerned if they priced a big project five years ago and they’re still going on those numbers now? Is it even possible to be “revenue neutral” with so much growth?

Huffman commented that probably any town going revenue neutral this year would be “in trouble” next year. She said budgets are a balancing act and taxes are a matter of what citizens want and what they’re willing to pay for. Huffman said town budgets are typically proposed in May and then adopted in June.

Would the state consider changing to rolling valuations so people don’t get huge jumps and how is the value of mixed-use development figured?

Joyner said a rolling approach would make sense but would require legislative change. He said the values for each type of mixed-use are figured according to property class, for example, townhomes in one and single-family homes in another.

Where can people find the “comps” used to help determine value for their property?

Joyner said underneath each person’s property records online at the county would be a link to pertinent information about the comparable properties used to determine value, including pictures.

Posed to McIntosh attorneys: What percentage of an increase should trigger an appeal?

With the disclaimer that every property is different, the answer was 40 percent.

Are revaluation appeals a negotiation or more of a yes/no situation?

Joyner said it’s a process and recommended that when people appeal, they bring a proposed value before the board. Joyner drew laughs as he explained that most people hope for an adjustment down, but sometimes the analysis and site visit reveal the need for a higher value.

How long does an appeal take?

An owner said he called the assessor’s office when he “got up off the floor” after viewing his statement but didn’t ask how long until he hears something. Joyner said it could be up to three weeks before a response comes. The office has had a high call volume, already clocking in 9000 appeals since the end of January.

What’s the most efficient way to appeal valuation?

Call the Mecklenburg County Assessor’s office at 980-314-4226 or go to the county website www.meckreval.com.

The experts said revaluations have historically happened every eight years but in the future, they’ll happen every four years.

“When I first came on board, I was told that some properties in the county hadn’t been inspected in 10 or 15 years, or more,” said Joyner. “That to me was totally unacceptable”

His approach solicited praise from several in the audience. “We turned the corner when we hired Ken” said County Commissioner Pat Cotham. “He has made a difference, and he cares about people.”   Attorney Bob McIntosh agreed. “It’s night and day between 2011 and now.”

The presenting sponsor of the Newsmakers Breakfast was The McIntosh Law Firm, based in Davidson. Breakfast Sponsors were Irvin Law Group and the real estate team of Dixie Dean and Christina Stone. Coffee Sponsors were Aquesta Bank, Davidson Wealth Management and Hood Hargett insurance.


Valuation appeal process starts informally

1. Informal appeals may be extended past Feb. 22

2. Mecklenburg Board of Equalization & Review, which is formal/quasi-judicial, ends May 20

3. NC property tax commission (the taxpayer can appeal to this level, process starts all over)

4. NC Court of Appeals

5. NC Supreme Court