Tax values may increase after assessment

by Andrew Batten

Property owners in the Mountain Island area will most likely see an increase in their homes’ assessed values once Mecklenburg County finishes its 2011 revaluation.

The county’s tax assessor’s office is preparing to finish a yearlong study of the area’s property values eight years after the last revaluation and three years after the country’s real estate market plunged.

The state requires the assessor’s office to perform the revaluation every eight years to realign assessed values with how homes are actually selling. The county initially planned its revaluation two years ago, but postponed it during the recession, Garret Alexander, the county’s tax assessor, told the Charlotte City Council Monday night, Jan. 3.

“This great recession came, and it was a thing of such great concern that the county commissioners wisely postponed the revaluation,” Alexander said.

Alexander couldn’t give exact new tax values, but he did give the city council a glimpse of what the revaluation’s likely outcome would be.

While market prices are lower than they were two years ago, which would signal lower assessed values, they are still higher than what homes were selling for in 2003 during the last revaluation, Alexander said.

For example, in the area around Mountain Island Lake the median sale price in 2009 was $125,000. That’s down from a median price of $134,000 in 2008 but up from $113,000 in 2003.

Around Lake Norman the median sale price in 2009 was 219,500. That’s down from a median price of $223,750 in 2008 but up from $173,750 in 2003. Similar increases were seen in areas of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson.

Similar increases were seen in areas of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson.

The county uses those sales trends to calculate assessed values, Alexander said.

“We did not go and knock on every door and inspect the inside of every building. … But we have an awful good idea of what’s happening in every neighborhood,” he told city council members.

While market prices are higher than they were in 2003, the county has taken into account the area’s foreclosure crisis, Alexander said. In neighborhoods where 15 percent of the homes are or have been foreclosed, the impact of those sales will be a factor in those homes’ assessed value.

Overall, property owners will likely see an increase in their property values, Alexander said, and the county can expect a 6 to 7 percent increase in its tax base. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will see a huge increase in their tax bill. That’s because the tax assessor doesn’t set property taxes, but rather the county, city and town boards make those decisions.

And at least some of those boards, including those in Charlotte and Cornelius, are looking to set revenue-neutral tax rates, which would essentially lower the tax rate to bring in the same amount of money as it did last year.

As an example, Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte said, if there were an 8 percent increase in property value, Cornelius would hypothetically have an 8 percent reduction in the tax rate.

“The tax rate is a totally independent decision, and people shouldn’t confuse the two,” Tarte said. “The rate gets set independently, and we won’t set that until probably the May-June time frame. What I anticipate we’ll strive to shoot for is a revenue-neutral tax rate, so we’re not collecting any more tax than we are today.”

But at the same time, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx cautioned residents not to expect a tax cut.

“Every time I get a tax bill, I’ve seen my taxes go up,” he said. “So I don’t think we should be over-promising anything to people.”

The assessor’s office will send notices of new values in late January or early February to approximately 275,000 residential property owners in the county. Those owners will have 30 days to appeal their new values and ask the assessor’s office for an informal review.

If those owners are not satisfied with the office’s findings they can then appeal to the county’s Board of Equalization and Review which will hear appeals from April 1 to May 1.

During the last evaluation the board heard 3,600 appeals. Alexander expects that number to swell to more than 8,000 appeals this year.

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