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County commissioners choose 15 new members for tax appeals board

Mecklenburg County commissioners have appointed a new Board of Equalization and Review, a key component of the board’s mission to restore public trust after the 2011 revaluation sparked a countywide taxpayer protest.

After hearing months of complaints over inflated values and a difficult appeals process, commissioners voted in November to remove the current members of the citizens tax appeals board – even those whose terms hadn’t come to an end – and appoint 15 new members by May.

As a group, the BER considers formal challenges by property owners that aren’t resolved by county staff.

On Tuesday, commissioners chose 15 members from a pool of 31 applicants. The new board, much like the old, consists of appraisers, real estate brokers, an auditor, an accountant, a lawyer, a former BER member and Kathy Davis, a Myers Park resident and former auditor who has been a vocal critic of the 2011 revaluation.

Five were chosen for one-year terms, five for two-year and five for three-year terms. Jeff Turnbull of Charlotte was picked to chair the board, and Joel Levy was named vice chairman.

The countywide protest that began in Cornelius forced state legislation that requires the county to fix the revaluation. Two bills call for a new revaluation within 18 months. Owners whose properties were overvalued will get refunds with interest dating back to Jan. 1, 2011. Yet it could be three years before they get them, Sen. Jeff Tarte, one of the primary sponsors, has said.

Tarte’s bill passed the Senate, and a House bill by Reps. Bill Brawley and Tricia Cotham passed a subcommittee this week.

‘A serious issue’

The BER selections drew some controversy.

Commissioner George Dunlap, a Democrat, said he was concerned that the new BER lacked “philosophical diversity,” noting it appeared to be top-heavy with Republicans.

Dunlap said he looked over applications and found only two who listed themselves as Democrats.

“Philosophically, Democrats tend to want to support government programs, and Republicans tend to want to reduce government,” Dunlap said. “This is a serious issue. Taxation is a serious issue. That’s how we fund what this community says it wants.”

Commissioner Karen Bentley, a Republican who chaired the committee that made the appointment recommendations, pointed out that her committee had two Democrats (commissioners Trevor Fuller and Vilma Leake) and two Republicans (Bentley and Matthew Ridenhour).

The committee spent hours last week interviewing candidates, she said.

“When I sat down and looked at the applications, it didn’t dawn on me if they were a Democrat or Republican,” Bentley said. “At the end of the day, we walked out of the room in complete agreement about who we would recommend.”

Fuller said the committee engaged in “spirited discussions” about applicants.

“I do think there’s something dangerous about categorizing people in such a blanket way – with the assumption that if you belong to one political party or another that you’re fair or unfair or that you goose up the (property) values one way or the other,” Fuller said. “Ultimately, it comes down to personal integrity.”

Even before the state legislation, the county hired Pearson’s Appraisal Service to survey all neighborhoods for proper values. The county is expecting to refund between $10 million and $22 million in overpaid taxes for 2011 and 2012, officials say.

Mecklenburg’s tax base could shrink by as much as $3.2 billion based on a Pearson’s review and other appeals to property values. As of late March, Pearson’s had identified 58 neighborhoods with major errors, which means property values will be adjusted. Those neighborhoods include 28,177 parcels valued at $16.1 billion.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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