Opinion

It's a fairness thing; don't stall revaluation

Consider two property owners (the names are fictional, the situations real):

Albert A. lived from 1998 to last May in a 7,200-square-foot Cornelius home that Mecklenburg County in 2003 valued at $1,137,200. That means his county property tax bill has been $9,552 a year.

In May the home sold for $2,100,000 – a value that would have meant a tax bill of $17,640, or $8,088 more than he paid. (Of course, his home likely wasn't worth $2 million until the last few years.) Mr. A got a break worth thousands.

Barbara B. isn't so fortunate. In 2007 she bought a new, 3,240-square-foot house in northwest Charlotte's Brookmere subdivision. The county estimated its value at $204,400. Yet Brookmere has been hit with foreclosures and sinking home values, and Ms. B. bought for only $169,000. Her county property tax bill is $1,717. Calculated on her home's market value, it would be only $1,420, a $300 difference.

It isn't fair to Ms. B. – or to any property owners – that Mr. A.'s bill is thousands of dollars less than if his home were equitably valued, or that hers is more.

That's why county commissioners on Wednesday should vote to proceed as planned with the property revaluation. Republicans on the board want to delay for two years, saying the market is too unstable and property owners shouldn't have to pay higher taxes during an economic downturn.

Yes, the market is in flux. The average price of Charlotte-area homes in September, $214,927, was down 9 percent from a year ago and was the lowest since March 2006. But the market has been in flux for years. Prices have soared, or sunk, in different areas.

To delay revaluation would prolong inequities built up since 2003. It would benefit all the Albert A.'s, who aren't paying their equitable share, and penalize the Barbara B.'s, who pay more than theirs.

It's important to keep a few things in mind. First, a revaluation alone doesn't equal a higher tax bill. It means a more equitably assessed property value.

If the county next spring adopts a revenue-neutral budget, your bill would rise if your property's value has risen more than the average property value rise in the county – about 20 percent since the 2003 assessment. If your value increases less than average or declines, your bill would go down.

County Manager Harry Jones, who recommends going ahead with reassessment, notes the county is legally required to tell voters what a revenue-neutral tax rate would be. That's the rate at which property tax revenue would stay the same.

The commissioners, if they decide next June to adopt a rate that isn't revenue neutral, should be open about that.

But the tax rate vote and the revaluation decision are two different issues.

Proceed with the revaluation and move, as planned, to an every-two-years schedule. Delaying may be popular with folks whose values have soared, but it taints a process that should be as equitable as possible.

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