CORNELIUS Gov. Pat McCrory traveled to the birthplace of Mecklenburg County’s revaluation revolt on Friday to sign into law Senate Bill 159, which requires the county to redo its 2011 revaluation and refund overbilled taxpayers with interest.
McCrory’s signing at Cornelius Town Hall came after two years of a property owner protest that spread countywide. Many argued their properties were vastly overvalued and that revaluation needed to be done over.
“What’s exciting is that this started out as a grass-roots effort,” McCrory told a room full of residents and elected officials at Cornelius Town Hall. “It didn’t start with elected officials in Raleigh or Washington, D.C. It started by people doing their homework and then being respectful and showing their leaders that there’s something wrong.”
As he entered the Town Hall, McCrory was greeted by about 100 protesters chanting “shame on you,” responding to a spate of recent state legislation, including education cuts, new abortion limits and sweeping voting changes.
To chuckles, McCrory noted the greeting during his remarks: “The great thing about our country is that we’re giving each other feedback.”
To comply with the new law, Mecklenburg must conduct a new reappraisal within 18 months, using a standard of one appraiser for every 4,250 parcels. Or it must hire an appraisal company to review all of the county’s 356,000 parcels using the tax rate set for Jan. 1, 2011.
Interim County Manger Bobbie Shields said Friday that the county would have to hire 59 appraisers to meet the standard set for the first option, which he said was “out of the question.” So next week he’ll recommend to county commissioners that they hire an appraisal company at their September meeting.
“It is the only option that is feasible,” he said.
Republican state Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius, a stalwart behind the bill and redo effort, said Friday that updating the county’s property data cards could delay the review until 2015.
He said he hoped the process would begin sooner, but that there’s no use setting new values until the data are corrected.
“It’s imperative that they completely clean up the database to get accurate values,” Tarte said.
The county must do a new revaluation by 2019. Tarte said he hoped Mecklenburg would conduct it simultaneously with the redo.
“It’d be silly not to because of the cost,” he said.
Shields said he believes the redo work could begin sooner. Yet Mecklenburg, he said, wouldn’t be ready for a new revaluation until 2017 – at the earliest.
He said the county has made significant progress on the database, including allowing property owners to update parcel information on a Mecklenburg website.
The county, he said, wouldn’t wait to send out refunds until all parcels are reviewed. “Everybody wants us to determine what the 2011 values are and get out refunds – and that is what we’ll do,” Shields said. “ …We will do what the law says we have to do.”
The law attaches a 5 percent yearly interest to refunds.
Back where it started
For weeks, Tarte, a former Cornelius mayor, had urged McCrory to sign the bill in Cornelius, where a small and quiet protest over inflated property values grew into a raucous, largely countywide revolt.
Tarte sponsored the bill in the Senate and Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican, introduced it in the House. It unanimously passed both legislative chambers and won support from all boards of county commissioners. “I’m not sure that’s ever happened,” Tarte said.
He said he wanted McCrory’s Cornelius visit to give the bill-signing some impact.
“It’s a statement from all the way to the governor’s office that this is a major issue that needed to be addressed,” Tarte said in an interview. “It recognized citizens participating in the process … and it let people know that the government is here to serve the people and not other the other way around.”
Tarte said McCrory keenly followed the bill and advocated for its passage. “Pat’s been in the middle of this and made sure it was going to happen,” he said.
More work remains
After signing the bill, McCrory gave one of his signing pens to Cornelius native Bob Deaton, in Tarte’s mind a hero for aggrieved Mecklenburg property owners.
In February 2011, Deaton opened a letter from the county office informing him that the tax value on his lakefront property had jumped 64 percent, to $937,000.
The jump added $4,000 to his tax bill.
Using county websites, he uncovered other value disparities of Lake Norman properties and brought them to Tarte’s attention.
McCrory in his remarks praised Deaton for standing up to what he thought was wrong.
“He never lost his cool. He never screamed and yelled,” the governor said. “He just followed the process.”
Deaton was gratified by the attention.
“It makes all the (hundreds of) hours worthwhile,” he said. “But this is just the beginning. We still have a load of work to do.”
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