With controversy over the 2011 revaluation showing no sign of disappearing, outgoing Commissioner Jim Pendergraph said Wednesday he expects the board will vote next week to do the botched reappraisal over again.
But a do-over would require authority from N.C. legislators, and “that would be an uphill battle,” Pendergraph warned.
“I want a redo, too,” he continued. “But I’m realistic enough to know how the legislature works. You have to get a majority of legislators to agree to it. Do a majority of the other counties want to change (state law) to where they have authority to do things that they may not be interested in doing?
“Now all they’ve got to say is: ‘We don’t have the authority to do a redo.’ ”
But two key Mecklenburg legislators believe there is a way to work out a change in the law.
A study by Pearson’s Appraisal Service found the revaluation was botched in dozens of residential and commercial neighborhoods. Some properties were dramatically overvalued, others undervalued.
Dozens more neighborhoods had minor flaws.
The flaws infuriated property owners and many lost trust in county government.
Tuesday, the controversy cost Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander his position. Alexander resigned as assessor and will be reassigned to a department “that will likely not be the tax assessor’s office,” board Chair Harold Cogdell said.
Some commissioners have said the only way to restore confidence is to scrap the revaluation and do it over.
N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews said Wednesday that legislation could be customized to help only Mecklenburg.
Brawley and state Sen.-elect Jeff Tarte were at Tuesday night’s board meeting to publicly offer their services to commissioners. They said they have the blessing of House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius.
Brawley said he called County Manager Harry Jones on Wednesday to reiterate their willingness to help.
“I believe it would be possible to draft legislation to help Mecklenburg correct problems with the 2011 revaluation without requiring every county in the state to take a similar action,” he said.
“It requires subtlety and thought. But depending on what they (commissioners) ask us to do, it’s possible to help Mecklenburg’s unique situation without destroying the entire structure of the state.”
A Mecklenburg problem
In August, Tillis wrote Cogdell urging that commissioners oversee the Pearson’s review. The speaker wrote that he was considering changes to the state’s Machinery Act, which governs property taxes and requires reappraisals at least every eight years. It is supposed to guarantee that property taxes are set uniformly in each county.
Tillis said the Pearson’s report could provide recommendations to changing the Machinery Act.
He included Brawley on a committee to look at revaluation concerns across the state. The committee was composed of legislators, county managers and tax assessors.
Mecklenburg, Brawley said, was the only county with a revaluation “that was just way out of whack.”
He said a much smaller county in eastern North Carolina had as many appraisers to revalue 57,000 properties as Mecklenburg had for its 355,000 properties.
Other counties did “drive-by” reviews of properties, where appraisers looked at every property to make sure they matched with real estate data cards. Mecklenburg hadn’t done that in 17 years.
The Tillis committee, Brawley said, concluded “this is a Mecklenburg problem.”
“They said, ‘You go ahead and deal with it. When you need us to do something, let us know,’ ” he said.
Board delays action
The board Tuesday had intended on Tuesday to take action on recommendations listed by Pearson’s Appraisal Service, the Wilson-based company hired to study the 2011 revaluation.
Instead, after hearing Jones’ recommendation and revisions to those recommendations by other commissioners, the board delayed any action to a special meeting set for 3 p.m. next Tuesday.
Wednesday, Cogdell declined to say whether the board would ask Mecklenburg legislators to draft the required legislation for a redo. He stressed that he wants the county to address the major inequity problems found by Pearson’s in its sample, then identify all the other properties with major value flaws and fix them.
Those were the first two steps Jones listed in his “immediate action” recommendations.
“I’m not sure what a redo would look like. It’s probably not as clear-cut as it may appear for Mecklenburg to engage in another revaluation that attempts to capture the values of 355,000 properties on Jan. 1, 2011,” Cogdell said. “Short of that, I am trying to build a consensus that all major inequities need to be addressed swiftly and comprehensively to the extent that the law allows.”