Are woods in a 50-foot gulley that has a stream running through it worth $125,000 an acre?
Daniel and Betty Garmon don't think so.
The Garmons have lived in their brick ranch home on Zion Church Road at N.C. 49 for 50 years.
They also own the 20.5 acres in the ravine beside their home.
Imagine their shock when they opened their mail a couple of years ago to find their tax bill had suddenly quadrupled to more than $10,000 a year.
A countywide property revaluation had placed the value of the land at $125,000 per acre, or about $1.1million total, effective Jan. 1, 2008.
"I just couldn't believe it," Betty Garmon, 78, told me last week at the couple's home. "I knew things would go up, but four times?"
The Garmons dutifully paid the bill. The county later lowered the land's assessed valuation to $53,105 per acre, given various deductions.
The couple tried to get their valuation reduced further, but the county Board of Equalization and Review denied their appeal.
This week,, lawyer Jim Scarbrough was scheduled to appeal that board's decision before the N.C. Property Tax Commission in Raleigh. He planned to do it for free.
Jerry Newton, a former Cabarrus County planning director and assistant county manager, intended to be there, too. Newton helped the couple challenge the $125,000-per-acre and $53,105-per-acre valuations through his firm, Property Tax Relief Inc.
He also helped the Garmons get the land into a state forestry tax-deferment program that sliced their bill by 90percent, he said. The program, however, comes with expensive strings attached if the Garmons ever sell the property.
But the trip to Raleigh wasn't necessary in the end.
Last week, Cabarrus tax officials offered to set the valuation at about $875,000, or $42,641 an acre, and the Garmons accepted.
"We all had a hard time figuring out what to do, but in the end believed that accepting the reduction was OK," Newton said in an e-mail to me late last week. "This whole ordeal has been very rough on them."
Daniel Garmon, 84, has walked with shrapnel in his back since being shot in his left hip in Germany during World War II.
He was part-owner of the former Massey Septic Tank & Plumbing for 27 years and worked 11 years for the county health department. His wife also worked for the county.
I, too, was stunned to think a commercial developer would leap at the chance to develop the ravine. It'd be awfully expensive filling it in with dirt, I thought, let alone obtaining state and federal permission to develop along that stream.
But the land is zoned office-institutional, which makes it more valuable than property with just a home on it, ravine or no ravine.
When I called him a couple of days after my visit to the Garmons early last week, Cabarrus County Tax Administrator Brent Weisner agreed it would be difficult to develop the Garmons' land commercially. That's why the county had subsequently lowered the land's assessed value, he said.
The Garmons are relieved everything worked out in the end.
Still, Betty Garmon said, she believes it's important that others know what the couple endured, as a cautionary tale.