Mecklenburg Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander resigned Tuesday night, a casualty of the continuing storm over the 2011 revaluation that has infuriated residents countywide.
In closed session, county commissioners voted unanimously to accept his resignation after eight years on the job. Board Chair Harold Cogdell announced the departure in open session, but gave no statement.
Instead, the board went quickly into the Pearsons Appraisal Service study of the controversial revaluation. But the board voted to delay action Tuesday night on recommendations from Pearsons, County Manager Harry Jones and several commissioners to fix serious inequities found in the review. They set a special meeting for next Tuesday.
For more than a year, the issue has created anger and mistrust toward county government among property owners who complained their properties were grossly overvalued and their concerns ignored by county tax assessors.
For months, some commissioners and many property owners blamed Alexander for the mistakes of serious inequities and poor customer relations uncovered by the Pearsons study.
The board appointed Alexander as tax assessor in early 2004. Before coming to Mecklenburg, hed worked in banking and then in Robeson, Cumberland and Union counties. His current job paid $122,395 a year as a division director.
Im not surprised (about the resignation), said outgoing Commissioner Jim Pendergraph, who thought he was attending his last meeting. Garretts been under a lot of pressure lately, and the problems just continue to get worse. The straw that broke the camels back was some of the things his office didnt do that it should have been doing for years.
That included not making on-site visits to actually see properties that were being valued. It took Pearsons study to reveal that the visits hadnt been done in 17 years.
Theres just no defense for that, Pendergraph said. I cant understand what theyve been doing to prepare for the 2011 revaluation, because they havent had once since 2003.
Commissioner Bill James said he didnt think Alexander did his job. I think people will be looking this over for some time to figure out if it was just his responsibility. I dont think thats the case.
Alexander is not the first to leave from the tax assessors office. Last April, Chuck Hicks retired as real property appraiser manager. Hicks directed the 2011 revaluation.
Commissioners went to Tuesdays meeting to take actions on recommendations that arose from the Pearsons study.
Before discussing the recommendations, they listened to another round of pleas from property owners to fix the 2011 revaluation before undertaking another reappraisal.
Barb Scott of Cornelius implored commissioners to refund overtaxed property owners and not to let those who oversaw the 2011 revaluation try to fix it.
How can we have the same people who created the mess clean it up? Scott asked.
Pearsons findings and recommendations were already well known before Tuesdays commissioners meeting. The company released them last week to the board, and then to property owners during meetings in each of the six commissioners districts.
The company found dozens of neighborhoods in its 15 percent sample with flaws yet proclaimed the overall revaluation acceptable.
Among 52 neighborhoods with the fastest-rising values, 20 had major problems and 18 others had minor ones.
Pearsons also reviewed 151 randomly chosen neighborhoods and found that 49 had at least minor flaws 15 had major ones. During all of his presentations, Emmett Curl, project manager for Pearsons, stressed that many of the properties could have been undervalued.
The final Pearsons report goes deeper into recommendations primarily quality control issues. They include:
• The tax assessors office providing greater access for taxpayers to speak to appraisers by phone or face-to-face.
• Standardizing correspondence.
• Making customers a top priority.
• Applying economic adjustments uniformly and assigning the most experienced appraisers to the more difficult neighborhoods.
Jones recommendations included identifying all neighborhoods with major property flaws in 2011 and then hiring a company to affix correct values.
He didnt propose refunds to overtaxed property owners, but said details still needed to be worked out.
Commissioners Karen Bentley, a Republican, and Dumont Clarke, a Democrat, made revisions and additions. Cogdell, the board chairman, then attempted to find common ground in all the recommendations.
But the board, on a motion from Commissioner George Dunlap, felt it needed more time to digest them before making decisions.
Outgoing Commissioner Jennifer Roberts said she is concerned that calls to refund overtaxed property owners were setting up potentially unrealistic expectations.
I understand the sentiment and desire to do this, but Im not sure if its legally possible, Roberts said. If we explore legislation to allow for refunds, theres simply no guarantee that we can craft that legislation and that it would be acceptable to the whole legislature.
Staff Writer April Bethea contributed.
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