Mecklenburg County will spend thousands of dollars on an outside audit of its controversial 2011 property revaluation. But that doesnt mean county staffers are interested in the results.
Tonight, County Manager Harry Jones is expected to spell out to commissioners why a new revaluation would be a waste of time and money before an independent review can uncover what, if anything, went wrong with the last one. One would have thought the external examination, if its worth doing at all, would say a lot about whether a new revaluation is warranted.
Mecklenburg assigned new property values for tax purposes effective Jan. 1, 2011. More than 40,000 property owners an all-time high appealed their values as inflated. They raised an array of questions, including how land values were determined and how foreclosures and other distressed sales were or werent factored into the new numbers.
Jones declared any outside review unnecessary and inappropriate, but commissioners wisely directed him to initiate one. Two weeks ago, they agreed unanimously on its scope, including determining if state law was broken and how the next revaluation could be done better. Firms have until Monday to submit their bids.
Commissioners also asked Jones to report back on what it would cost to do another revaluation in 2014 or 2015. Hell give them much more than that tonight.
Jones has written a memo to commissioners making the case against a new revaluation. He says the county doesnt have the staff or the money, and that in any case, tax values are already in line with market values.
In short, a revaluation in 2014 or 2015 would not resolve any concerns raised by the 2011 revaluation, Jones says in the memo. Instead, it would result in a costly effort that achieves very little in terms of desired results about equity, affordability and public confidence.
Another revaluation would falsely raise residents hopes of lower property values for tax purposes, Jones said. If those values dont drop, the public will be even more frustrated, confused and angry about the revaluation outcome, exacerbating distrust and its associated outcry.
All of what Jones says may be true (though data from the Charlotte Regional Realtors Association show that home prices fell a little more than 4 percent in 2011 and are flat this year). But it doesnt ring true to the thousands of property owners who successfully proved that their assessments were too high.
State law requires a revaluation at least every eight years. Many experts say it is a best practice to conduct them more frequently. A 2015 revaluation would provide four years between Mecklenburgs, hardly a rushed schedule. In fact, commissioners have discussed a policy that would require revaluations every four years as standard practice.
Most importantly, with so many unanswered questions about the legitimacy of the last revaluation, and with an audit poised to answer them, Jones is getting ahead of himself.
A comes before B, which comes before C. Tonight, commissioners should thank Jones for his thoughts, then ensure a truly independent audit, then let its findings shape what happens next.