More than midway through the review of Mecklenburg County’s troubled 2011 revaluation, property owners will be refunded nearly $16 million – and counting.
As of this week, 58 percent of the county’s 356,000 residential and commercial parcels have been reviewed and processed by county-hired Pearson’s Appraisal Service. That’s led to 140,690 refunds for overvalued properties, Mecklenburg Tax Assessor Ken Joyner said.
Of those changes, more than three-quarters were for $10,000 or less.
The review also has generated 28,409 new tax bills for properties that Pearson’s found undervalued. Those bills will bring in about $2.4 million, Joyner said. Because the review goes back each year to Jan. 1, 2011, one parcel can generate multiple refunds or bills, he said.
Yet the vast majority of properties – 82 percent – saw no value changes, he said.
“That’s because there had been a significant amount of work by Pearson’s and the county assessor’s office even before Pearson’s started the review in October 2013,” Joyner said.
More than 1,700 property owners have appealed the new values by Pearson’s. That’s less than 1 percent of the parcels that have been processed – far fewer than the flood of 41,000 appeals after the original revaluation in 2011.
Joyner said he’s not “overwhelmingly surprised” at the number, fearing there would be more. “But we’re sitting here 3 1/2 years out from the original revaluation date and a lot of citizens who had issues back in 2011 have already had the opportunity to work with Pearson’s,” he said.
State law forced the current review that started Oct. 1, 2013.
Pearson’s, based in Wilson, was first hired by Mecklenburg in July 2012 after the 2011 revaluation triggered a flood of protests and appeals.
The company found dozens of major and minor flaws, leading to state legislation in July 2013 that required the county to review, by neighborhood, the values of all parcels. They also found the county had not updated data cards for each parcel in 17 years at the time. That needs to be done every six years.
State legislators gave the county 18 months to conduct the review.
A county study showed that customer service after the 2011 revaluation was sorely lacking. To improve service, Joyner designated a team of staffers to review questions submitted through emails and the tax office website, and then determine which staffer should respond.
Joyner said he worked with the county’s public information office to craft a statement to property owners suddenly facing a new tax bill. The statement explains their right to appeal the new higher value and bill.
“I didn’t just want to send a bill and say you owe us money,” he said. “We wanted to make sure citizens understood completely what their rights are.”
Pearson’s started the review looking at 2013 values. “It made more sense to start after two appeals cycles and after Pearson’s had already worked on areas where there were significant issues,” Joyner said.
‘Receptive and fair’
The review has worked well for Clarence Finch.
He owns three parcels on the Mecklenburg side of Lake Wylie. Two adjoin the waterfront parcel he bought in 1976 and where he’s retired. He bought one of the connecting parcels in 2012 for $40,000 and received a county notice six months later that its value had risen to $227,500.
Finch appealed. Three days before he was to appear before the Board of Equalization and Review, a group of citizens that hears appeals, he got a call from a Pearson’s appraiser who found that the lot had “extreme topography” and no access to the lake because of shallow water at the end of a cove.
He offered to reduce the value to $53,700. Finch accepted. He said he was quickly refunded excess taxes he’d paid on that property.
The 2011 revaluation escalated the other parcel to $300,000. Finch appealed that one too and got the same treatment. An appraiser lowered it to $178,500 because of the shallow water that renders Finch’s dock useless at times. He’s still waiting for a refund.
“I couldn’t have asked for better treatment,” Finch said. “I was dreading the whole process, figuring it would be standard government bureaucracy. But they were really very receptive and fair. And if you had the facts and substantiation for your claim, they were delightful to work with.”
Sen. Jeff Tarte, a former Cornelius mayor who led the legislative effort to force a review, said his phone constantly rang when residents were upset by the property values, or when it wasn’t clear Tarte’s Senate bill would pass.
Now that the review is well underway, Tarte’s phone rarely rings with calls from disgruntled property owners.
“I’ve heard very few comments negative about it,” Tarte said. “That’s an outstanding sign that everything has died.”
Review on track
Appraisers first looked at neighborhoods where complaints had stacked up, mostly properties along Lake Norman near Cornelius and in the Myers Park and Eastover neighborhoods in Charlotte.
Since then, Joyner said, they’ve been more systematic, starting in northern Mecklenburg and moving south. All but 1,000 to 2,000 residential parcels in Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville have been reviewed, he said.
The review is “on track” to finish in the allotted time, he said. He expects Pearson’s to finish its reviews of all parcels by late this year and complete the processing by February. The last report from Pearson’s to county commissioners needs to be submitted by March. Appeals could take the rest of 2015, Joyner said.
He said the review, on-site visits by county staff and an outside consultant hired to examine how flawed the 2011 revaluation actually was will provide more up-to-date information for the next revaluation – which needs to be done by 2019.
“As the assessor, my goal is to have everyone pay their fair share and not a penny more or less,” Joyner said. “It’s all about being equitable and fair for everyone in the neighborhood.”