Refund likely for double-taxed neighborhood

Mecklenburg County may soon be able to give money back to a group of property owners who were double-taxed for police service after their neighborhood was annexed into Stallings last year.

After receiving complaints from some residents last year, county officials tried to refund the tax money. But they said they did not have the legal authority to do so.

Mecklenburg leaders appealed to state lawmakers for help, and members of the General Assembly recently approved a bill allowing the county to give back the money. The legislation is tucked inside a much larger bill, and now awaits Gov. Mike Easley's signature.

If things go as planned, Mecklenburg commissioners could sign off on the refunds totaling roughly $22,400 at their Aug. 5 meeting. The checks would range from just over $1 to $374.

There is no clear timetable on when the property owners would get their money, but county officials said they want it to happen as soon as possible.

“It was quite an ordeal, but I am glad we're about to give them their money back,” said commissioner Bill James, whose district includes the neighborhood.

Shannamara is located in a previously unincorporated portion of southeast Mecklenburg, with homes ranging in tax value from $179,000 to $434,000. In January 2007, the town of Stallings annexed about 100 homes in the neighborhood.

Annexations are common in many communities, but this one was unique because it happened in the middle of a fiscal year.

Mecklenburg had already taxed the Shannamara homeowners for a year's worth of protection by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The county contracts with the city of Charlotte to have CMPD service unaffiliated areas.

But after the annexation, the property owners were then taxed by Stallings.

Some residents learned they were being asked to pay twice for police service after receiving their tax bills in August. They contacted officials in Stallings and Mecklenburg County for help, but leaders said at the time they were unsure of what they could do to fix the problem.

State law gives counties authorities to tax property owners for the special police districts, but did not previously give them the power to refund the money. The new bill would do that.

Mecklenburg and Charlotte officials are now ironing out a deal that would have the city reimburse the county for the police taxes paid by the Shannamara homeowners. The Charlotte City Council signed off on the plan last fall, pending the change in state law.

“It's a simple issue that's taken a complicated process,” said Deborah Goldberg, assistant to the county manager.

Shannamara resident Deborah Watson said some homeowners had thought they could get their money back by last Christmas. Now, she's hoping it'll come in time for this Christmas.

“I think that's excellent,” Watson said when told residents could get their money back. “It's been a long time.”