Inside County Government

Learn about the board that rejected the ‘Moorish Temple’ tax-exempt appeal

(from left) Rufus Hutchinson, Joel Levy and Nobie Thrasher are three of the 15 real-estate professionals who sit on Mecklenburg County’s Board of Equalization and Tax Review.
(from left) Rufus Hutchinson, Joel Levy and Nobie Thrasher are three of the 15 real-estate professionals who sit on Mecklenburg County’s Board of Equalization and Tax Review. jmcfadden@charlotteobserver.com

Eric Anderson has seen a gamut of emotions cross the faces of property owners when they visit the Bob Walton Plaza uptown to argue for lower taxes.

Some are distressed. Many are determined. Others are downright angry.

On Tuesday, it was a mix of indignation and resolve as Dianne Carter El, a self-proclaimed grand sheik with the Moorish Science Temple of America, told the county’s Board of Equalization and Review that a Matthews home she bought in 1994 should be tax-exempt because it’s religious property.

She claimed the brick home in the Matthews Plantation subdivision hosted worship services and Bible study, and doubled as a refuge for nomadic Moors who needed a rest.

The board denied her appeal, saying she failed to prove the home is completely used for religious purposes.

Carter’s case “was something of an anomaly” for the board, said Anderson, board clerk and division director with the county tax assessor’s office.

He said he won’t be surprised if more appeals like Carter’s show up now that her feud with the county has put the board back in the limelight.

Who are they?

The 15-member citizen board is composed of appraisers, accountants, Realtors and lawyers. County commissioners in 2013 appointed a new board to restore public trust after the botched tax revaluation two years earlier.

The board hears commercial and residential property appeals in three-member panels. For example: Chair Bruce Miller and members Kathy Davis and Cleve Daniels heard appeals on Tuesday. The next day, Vice Chair Joel Levy, Nobie Thrasher and Rufus Hutchinson heard them.

How often do they meet?

It depends. The board met six times in October. Last month, they met five times. Much of the scheduling hinges on the number of appeals on the docket.

As of next week, members would have heard over 16,900 appeals for 4,900 parcels this year – many of them part of the last batch of appeals from the revaluation review.

Are they paid?

Yes. The board chair makes $125 a meeting; other members get $100 per meeting. If a meeting lasts longer than three hours, members get $15 an hour for overtime. Anderson said the hearings cost taxpayers less since meetings rarely go as long as they did during the revaluation.

How do the hearings work?

Think of them as quasi-judicial proceedings.

Taxpayers present evidence on why their taxes should be lowered, their values increased or their property granted tax-exempt status. County appraisers and assessors respond with testimony on why the value should change or stay the same. The board asks questions of both sides, deliberates and then votes.

The burden of proof always rests with the taxpayer. Property owners who disagree with the board’s decision can appeal again to the N.C. Property Tax Commission.

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