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Revaluation left many angry; fixes needed

Whatever audit shows, be transparent, seek fairness

Come Nov. 20, independent auditors will give their completed report on Mecklenburg County’s much maligned 2011 revaluation process. Residents already know county officials botched some parts of its evaluation process – its poor communications with property owners about challenging assessments being the most visible.

But on Thursday, Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners chairman Harold Cogdell said he’d heard from county staff that the audit may show some properties were inaccurately appraised. An appraiser with the outside firm conducting the audit wouldn’t unveil its findings, noting that more information will be released Nov. 13 as the company begins sharing information with residents in each of the county’s six districts.

If the audit does show “inequities,” as Cogdell noted it might, county officials will have to be transparent and aggressive in fixing those problems. The revaluation process left thousands of residents angry, frustrated and distrustful of county officials. It didn’t help that County Manager Harry Jones unwisely declared that an outside review of the matter was unnecessary and inappropriate.

Commissioners wisely didn’t listen. They told Jones to get the review to find out what, if anything went wrong, whether state law was broken, and what can be done better for the next revaluation.

This editorial board earlier this year listed some of its concerns: The impact of foreclosures on property values was not treated the same across the county. There were few comparables in some areas. Pockets of the county were assessed values that seemed out of step with the market. And communication around the appeals process was poor.

Cogdell indicated the report did identify problems with communications with residents – errors county officials have already acknowledged – and the need for changes in the informal appeals process.

Fixing communications and the appeals process will be easy compared to tackling possibly inaccurate appraisals. The independent audit only looked at a sampling of Mecklenburg properties, about 15 percent of the county’s total neighborhoods.

But more than 50,000 appeals were heard by the tax assessor’s office – many who were left dissatisfied. And many others just didn’t go want to go through the hassle of the appeals process. What can commissioners do, if inaccurate appraisals are a problem, to be fair to all residents? Their actions could make a messy situation even messier. Take care.

Bob Deaton of Cornelius, who appealed the value of his home after it went up 64 percent in the revaluation, said he wants a complete redo of all values soon. That has pros and cons that must be weighed carefully. A total redo would be costly, and Jones has said it would raise false hopes for many residents because they still wouldn’t see a drop in their home values.

Of course, this is all getting the cart before the horse. We don’t know for sure what the audit will say.

But we do know this: Maintaining faith in the tax system’s legitimacy is important. The 2011 revaluation badly shook the public’s faith. This audit was a good first step to restoring that faith. Taking the recommendations seriously and acting on them – whatever they are – will be another.

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