State Sen. Jeff Tarte said Tuesday that refunds to taxpayers overbilled because of the flawed 2011 revaluation might have to wait two to three years.
The refunds would have to be delayed until Mecklenburg County cleans up a property database that hasnt been updated in 17 years, Tarte said.
That would mean taxpayers overbilled by the 2011 revaluation could be owed four to five years of refunds.
Thered be some large refunds, Tarte said. Something would have to be worked out so the county doesnt take such a big hit all at once.
Later Tuesday, after hearing from more angry property owners, Mecklenburg commissioners unanimously supported a motion that supports the concept of refunding property owners overbilled in 2011 and 2012 because of the revaluation.
The board also authorized County Attorney Marvin Bethune to work with Tarte and other legislators to draft the bill.
Legislation is going to come from Raleigh, commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said about the motion by commissioner Bill James. We dont know how it will be worded yet. But its going to come and were going to be told to fix it and told fairly specifically how to fix it.
Its going to require some legislation to allow us to do the right thing and that is: Give them their money back.
Tarte, a former Cornelius mayor, and Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews hope to introduce a bill in Raleigh next week that would give the county authority to update the property database. He plans to meet with four Mecklenburg commissioners Friday to brief them on the bill.
Because revaluations are governed by state law, the county needs legislative permission to restore the database, set new values on properties and provide refunds.
As Cornelius mayor, Tarte was a leader in the countywide protest by taxpayers who complained their properties were inflated in the 2011 revaluation.
Momentum for a revaluation redo and refunds began after a county-hired consultant, Pearsons Appraisal Service, found dozens of major and minor flaws in 15 percent of Mecklenburg neighborhoods that it surveyed last year.
In late November, Mecklenburg commissioners hired Pearsons to continue surveying all neighborhoods starting with those with major flaws. That began in early January.
In its initial survey, Pearsons discovered that a database that records what is on each parcel hadnt been updated in 17 years.
Tarte said reliable sources have told him that 40 percent of the data is currently corrupt.
Its the wrong data, Tarte told the Observer. Its bad data.
Mecklenburg General Manager Bobbie Shields, the countys interim tax assessor, told commissioners Tuesday night that his office is still assessing how much of the database is wrong.
I dont know where (Tarte) got that number, Shields said. I would be surprised if that number is accurate.
Correcting bad data
Tarte said correcting the property data cards on Mecklenburgs 336,000 parcels would take two to three years, with 50 percent to 66 percent of the parcels having to be physically verified.
That means theyd have to be walked over, Tarte said experts at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government have told him.
He said theres no use in setting the correct 2011 values until the data is corrected.
Several commissioners said they hope it wont take two to three years to fix the database. James said the property cards will have to be corrected, he said, or well screw up a second (reappraisal). The bill that Tarte and Brawley are drafting has support from legislators from across the state, Tarte said.
It would also allow Mecklenburg to retroactively set new values to Jan. 1, 2011.
Since it would take two to three years to fix the database, he and Brawley are proposing that the county do a dual revaluation, setting values for 2011 and 2015 or 2016.
It makes no sense to do another revaluation until the database is cleaned up. Theyd be creating more garbage. The tax bills would still be in error, Tarte said. After all the correct data is in place, it would be more cost effective to do two revaluations at the same time.
Higher bills possible
The only taxpayers whod be eligible for refunds before new values are set would be those who have appealed to the county or state and their properties were found to be overvalued, Tarte said.
In addition to refunds, the bill would allow the county to send higher bills to taxpayers whose properties were undervalued, which Pearsons stressed will happen.
They would also have to be identified, Tarte said. But thered likely be some restriction. I dont think wed allow the county to bill those folks for four or five years but maybe for a year or two.
The county screwed up the process. Our intent would be to limit the county on how many years its entitled to collect.
Tarte said he and Brawley are going to great pains to make sure everything is legal and that once the database is corrected and each parcel is valued properly this never occurs again.
Bottom line, the citizens deserve a fair and accurate market value on their property, he said. Hopefully if we do this properly, this never, ever, happens again.
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