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Reval bill right to tackle too-high, too-low values

Enough already. With every revelation about Mecklenburg County’s botched 2011 revaluation, we want to scream.

In November we learned from a consultant that the county hadn’t updated its property database – i.e. actually looked at each parcel to help assess value – in an astounding 17 years. This week, we heard that as much as 40 percent of the data could be wrong and that many residents who were overbilled in the county’s flawed revaluation may have to wait two to three years for a refund.

Aaaaaaaaa!!!

The good news is that the refund delay wouldn’t apply to taxpayers who’ve appealed their property tax values to the county or state and the values were found to be overstated. So says state Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius who, along with Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews, plans to introduce a bill in Raleigh next week to right the revaluation process.

This is also good news, though some won’t see it that way: The proposal would allow the county to send higher tax bills to taxpayers whose properties were undervalued. Pearson’s Appraisal Service, the consultant the county hired last year to identify revaluation inequities, found that properties were both over- and undervalued in the neighborhoods they examined. We said last year and still believe that it is philosophically inconsistent and fiscally unsound to give refunds to those overcharged but decline to bill those who were undercharged.

No Mecklenburg resident whose property was overvalued should have to wait up to three years to recoup their money. Yet, that seems the likely outcome. And Tarte offers a good reason.

The refunds, he says, will have to be delayed until Mecklenburg County fixes that outdated property database. “It makes no sense to do another revaluation until the database is cleaned up. They’d be creating more garbage. The tax bills would still be in error,” Tarte said.

Tarte says he’s been told 40 percent of the county’s database is “corrupt.” County officials question that number. He also says that 50 percent to 66 percent of Mecklenburg’s 336,000 parcels would have to be physically verified to correct the property data cards.

Tarte’s comments only highlight the poor management and leadership county staff have exhibited. Yes, County Manager Harry Jones acknowledged his initial wrongheaded response last year when he urged against an independent audit following heated complaints of inflated revaluations countywide. But even now, staffers seem almost reluctant warriors in redressing these wrongs. Tarte this week has shown more forthrightness and fervor than we’ve seen from the county staff who were part of creating the problem.

County commissioners have been vocal. Commissioners’ chair Pat Cotham, a Democrat, on Monday called giving refunds to all who were overcharged “a matter of fairness.” On Tuesday Republican commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said the proposed legislation will allow the county “to do the right thing and that is: Give [taxpayers] their money back.”

They’re right. But fixing this problem will require better efforts than we’ve seen so far.

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