New estimates show big jumps in property values for some neighborhoods near uptown, Mecklenburg County officials said Friday.
The first look at neighborhood-level data comes amid intense debate over the fairness of proceeding with a countywide revaluation starting in January.
While the sample reflects only a fraction of the county's roughly 281,000 residential parcels, it highlights a key point of contention.
Homeowners in those neighborhoods could see higher taxes if the county conducts property reappraisals as planned next year.
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But the figures also suggest those same property owners are not paying enough taxes based on what their homes would sell for today.
County commissioner George Dunlap requested the information for neighborhoods he represents to bolster his argument that the county should wait to reset property values. Officials have not released similar data for the rest of the county.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs or can't pay their mortgage,” Dunlap said.
Others argue the process should move ahead. Thousands of homeowners are paying too much in taxes while others are not paying their fair share, they say.
“In the past years, you have gotten the same resistance no matter the economy,” outgoing commissioner Parks Helms said.
By law, county officials must conduct revaluations at least every eight years. Mecklenburg County last reappraised property in 2003.
Since then, officials estimate that property values countywide have risen 20 percent on average. Some areas have seen declines and others have experienced increases of as much as 400 percent.
The revaluation is used to determine tax bills that generate revenue to operate local government. Commissioners would set the tax rate later in the year.
Even if commissioners cut the tax rate, neighborhoods that see values with above-average appreciation likely will see an increase in taxes. Neighborhoods with below-average appreciation, or declines, would likely see taxes fall.
The preliminary report by the county tax assessor's office says property values on average have risen 35 percent to 57 percent since 2003 in the Lockwood, Belmont and Wesley Heights neighborhoods, which border uptown. The report is based on a review of home sales from July 2007 through October 2008.
The findings, officials said, signal property values are increasing in older, close-in neighborhoods and dropping in areas from west uptown around Interstate 85 northward to Independence Boulevard on the east side.
“Buyer taste and preference has moved to the center city,” said Chuck Hicks, county real property appraiser manager.
In north Charlotte's Hidden Valley, values have increased by just 9 percent, the report shows. That means that many property owners likely would see “a lower effective property tax,” the report says.
Officials will present the findings to property owners at 6 p.m. Monday at St. Paul Baptist Church.
The outgoing board of commissioners recently voted to delay a decision on the revaluation until after the new board is sworn in on Dec. 1. The incoming board is expected to vote the next day on moving the process forward.
Helping Empower Local People, a community organizing group, is trying to convince local government officials to provide tax relief for families who live in Belmont and other neighborhoods near uptown.
“I was like ‘Oh my God,'” when news spread that property values had climbed so steeply, said Alice Bennett, a group member. “I know there are ladies who can't afford it. How do we keep them in their homes?”
Valerie Stepp, who lives in the Optimist Park neighborhood near uptown, said she understands why some officials want to set new values, but worries that some of her neighbors won't be able to afford their taxes.
Stepp said she has heard rumors that property taxes in the neighborhood could jump 50 percent, raising her bill from $1,000 a year to $1,500.
Stepp bought her two-bedroom house six years ago for $65,000. With their proximity to uptown, she said, some homes in the neighborhood are now selling for as much as $200,000.
“If you're on a fixed-income what can you do?” she asked. “If they lived through bad times with the drugs and shootings, why can't they stay during the good times?”
Fred Kelly: 704 358-5027