CORNELIUS Bob Deaton knew something was awry when he opened the letter from Mecklenburg County in February 2011.
The tax value of his lakefront property on Belle Isle Drive in Cornelius had shot up about 64 percent, to $937,000, which represented a roughly $4,000 increase in his tax bill.
You think thats going to get your attention? asked Deaton, 75, a Cornelius native who had retired from the city of Charlotte as the director of the Department of Transportation. It sure got his.
On his Dell Inspiron 1300 laptop, Deaton used two free government websites to unearth numerous disparities in Mecklenburg Countys 2011 revaluation of properties on Lake Norman.
His doggedness culminated in bills being introduced in the state House and Senate March 4 to correct disparities across the county.
The need to fix the 2011 property revaluation is an issue that transcends politics or political parties, state Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Cornelius, said in announcing the filing of his bill. A companion bill by State Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Matthews, was filed in the House the same morning.
Tarte credited his neighbor, Deaton, during the announcement at the Government Center.
When this was brought to my attention in early 2011 by Bob Deaton, I knew that we would have to correct this injustice to the citizens of Mecklenburg County, Tarte said. We have a plan that will return money improperly taken by the county and municipalities. This bill will accomplish that by ensuring fair and accurate property values for all Mecklenburg County property owners.
Suspicious from the start
Deaton said he mentioned his concerns early on to Tarte, who was then mayor of the town. Deaton also got onto his computer over numerous months and printed at least 1,000 pages of county documents. He arranged the pages in binders in his second-floor office in an outbuilding beside his home.
Deaton and his wife, Phyllis, raised a son and daughter in the home, which was off a secluded dirt road when Deaton and his dad built it in 1971. The property, just under two-thirds of an acre, was all weeds that Deaton said he cleared with a bush hog. He paid $120 a year to lease the property from Duke Power until he bought it in the mid-1970s.
In a June 2011 letter that he read at a Mecklenburg County commissioners meeting, Deaton requested any and all records in whatever form retained for purposes of any inspection and copying that relate in any fashion to the design, implementation, field work, calculations, procedures, accounting, assumptions, appeals and any other facet of the 2011 revaluation of all real property parcels in Mecklenburg County for ad valorem tax purposes.
The elected officials didnt respond at all, he said. What I ended up getting was an email from the Assessors Office that gave me the link (to a website he then used), and documents as a PDF file with information on my tax information.
Deaton said not all of the information he requested was in the link he was given, http://polaris.mecklenburgcountync.gov.
They never ever fully gave me what I asked for, he said. I was not satisfied.
What he found on the Polaris link just created more concerns in my mind, he said.
A worker in the town of Cornelius IT department then told him about another site, http://vc.charmeck.org, where he found more of his answers.
When he began researching the values of many of the other 1,700 Mecklenburg County parcels at Lake Norman, Deaton often didnt surface from his office for days at a time, he said.
In March 2012, he produced a PowerPoint presentation from the documents and later showed it on a large projector screen in the office to Tarte, former Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Pendergraph and officials with Pearsons Appraisal Service, which the county hired in July 2012 to study the revaluation.
He queried Pearsons officials at county commissioner meetings, at Cornelius Town Hall and when they twice visited his office.
He said he told Pearsons officials on one of their visits that if they were to come up with a figure that would reduce mine, I would not accept it until everyones had been properly reviewed.
He also had appeared before the Cornelius Board of Commissioners in December 2011 and earlier that year met in Raleigh with House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Cornelius, State Rep. Julia Howard, R-Mocksville, head of the House Finance Committee, and with other legislators to express his concerns.
His PowerPoint reveals stunning tax value disparities in Lake Norman neighborhoods. Numerous contiguous properties, for instance, had dramatically different assessed land values, such as $280,000 for one and $700,000 for the other, and $560,000 for one and $1 million or more for the other.
As of Jan. 1, 2011, a number of waterfront properties that couldnt be developed because of size, shape or zoning constraints were each given an assessed land value of $700,000.
The documents contained one stunning revelation after another.
He was the first to really get this on the radar, Tarte said Friday. He was the one I leaned on for guidance to make sure this is done right for all of the citizens of Mecklenburg County. He is one good dude.
When Tarte announced the bills at the Government Center, he made sure Deaton stood beside him.