As promised, state Sen. Jeff Tarte introduced a bill this week that attempts to undo the “unfairness” of sticking Mecklenburg County property owners with back taxes during years they didn’t own the property.
During the state-ordered review of Mecklenburg’s mistake-riddled 2011 revaluation, the owners of hundreds of undervalued parcels were sent bills for back taxes – totaling about $256,000 – for properties they didn’t own at the time of the billing. Of the 12,800 undervalued properties discovered during the review as of December, 1,170 had changed hands since 2011.
County officials heard dozens of complaints about unfair billing and requested the state relieve current property owners of tax liabilities for years they didn’t own a property.
Tarte’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, does just that.
It also requires the county to send refunds with interest to those property owners who paid tax bills for parcels they didn’t own and makes it illegal for the county to place a lien on properties “for underpaid taxes” if the current owner didn’t own the parcel on Jan. 1 of the billed year.
That could mean the county may not be able to collect all the $256,000 in back billing for properties that have switched owners. Tarte’s bill does give the county authority to go after the money from previous owners.
“It, of course, will be harder to collect, especially if the previous property owners have left the county,” said Tarte, a former Cornelius mayor. “But if they’re still in the county, the county has recourse against that property owner.”
He said the bill only applies to Mecklenburg because that was the state’s only county required to review its revaluation. The bill passed first reading in the Senate on Wednesday and was sent to its committee on Rules and Operations for approval. It will require a Senate vote before going to the state House.
“It was a mistake that we allowed this to occur in the first place. It wasn’t intended to work out this way,” he said. “This is simply an effort to fix the unfairness of the back tax issue.”
Tarte will also introduce a bill this week that sets a minimum of $14.99 that all North Carolina counties must write tax refund checks.
That issue arose in Mecklenburg during the revaluation review, with the state requiring the county to refund all overbilled property owners – no matter how little the amount.
So Mecklenburg’s tax assessor office sent out checks for as little as 81 cents, plus 11 cents interest. Tens of thousands were sent for less than $2, Tax Assessor Ken Joyner said.
Under Tarte’s bill, any refund less than $14.99, property owners have the option of applying the amount as credit on their bill, or drive to the tax assessor’s office to collect the refund.
Any refunds of $15 or more will be mailed to property owners.
Tarte said he sees no obstacles for that bill’s passage.