This Month's Top Commentators

  • Be the first to comment.

The Best Voter Lists Available

PunditHouse Store

MeckCo Tax Assessor Resigns As Reval Revolt Rages


Mecklenburg commissioners this week started down what promises to be a long, painful and pricey, but wholly necessary road to fixing the fatally flawed 2011 property revaluation and its accompanying fleecing of taxpayers.

And while a growing number of elected officials are calling for a complete redo of the revaluation, accompanied by refunds to any residents who could be due one based on revised results, the county board would need legislative authority to make that a reality.

Commissioners on Tuesday night pushed any final decisions to a meeting scheduled for Nov. 27, while a barrage of recommendations on how to move forward remain under review. The work begins in the wake of an independent audit that found deeply embedded problems in the reval process and ultimately led to the resignation this week of Mecklenburg Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander.

But the man who led the botched reval is hardly its first victim; potentially thousands of homeowners countywide had their pockets picked, resulting in their being taxed on wrongly assessed property values.

When evidence of serious flaws in the revaluation process grew increasingly evident, however, county staff’s initial response was “excuses, obfuscation, denial, and arrogance,” said Commissioner Karen Bentley, a Republican whose district includes the north Mecklenburg town of Cornelius where reval problems and revolution have burned bright.

“The 2011 revaluation was not transparent, efficient, nor deserving of the public’s trust,” Bentley said. “Now we also know it was not equitable.”

The reval audit, which was conducted by Pearson’s Appraisal Services, found flaws in nearly 75 percent of homes in 52 neighborhoods with the fastest-rising values; among 151 randomly chosen neighborhoods, the audit found that at least 15 had major errors and 49 had minor ones, resulting in properties that were both overvalued as well as undervalued.

As part of a potential remedy, County Manager Harry Jones – the same manager who originally balked at an outside audit, calling it “neither necessary nor appropriate” – had recommended that Pearson’s contract be amended to identify all neighborhoods with major issues of inequity, establishing appropriate values for identified properties as a base for future revaluations, and directing county staff to develop a detailed work plan for the next revaluation.

That drew fire from some commissioners, who said they, and more importantly the public, had lost faith in county staff’s performance.

“They spent a year telling the public everything was fine and that it was all in their heads,” Republican Commissioner Bill James said of the county manager and his staff. “I believe that public confidence in the county is at such a low point that many will be suspicious if existing county staff controls the process or supervises it. How can we expect them to solve a problem that they denied existed?”

Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour amplified that sentiment.

“I don’t think we can have the same captain that steered the Titanic into the iceberg be the same captain that’s going to steer this ship,” Ridenhour said of fixing the reval process and providing justice for taxpayers.

Estimates peg the cost at $180,000 to identify and resolve flaws in countywide properties, outside the smaller 15-percent sample already tagged in the Pearson’s audit, with the process taking about three months to complete. Hiring an outside company to fix any properties found to be significantly overvalued or undervalued could take upwards of a year and cost between $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

“It’s going to take a lot of time and it’s going to take a lot of money and effort. But can you really put a price tag on faith in your local elected officials or your local government?” said Ridenhour, a Republican. “I don’t think you can put a price tag on that. So if it means we need to take more time, we take more time. If it means we have to spend a few more dollars to get it right, then we need to spend a few more dollars to make sure we get it right.”

Elected officials from Cornelius made inroads this week in that direction, with the town board approving a resolution that requests Mecklenburg commissioners “hire new qualified staff or engage an independent consultant” to evaluate and correct all findings and recommendations contained in the Pearson’s report, and to seek legislative authority to redo the 2011 reval and conduct a new one. Assistance on that front would likely come from Cornelius mayor and Senator-elect Jeff Tarte.

“What you feel you may lack from an authority perspective at the legislative level, I stand here before you today as a senator-elect, and with my colleague Rep. Bill Brawley, to let you know we’re here to be of assistance to you,” Tarte, a Republican, told commissioners Tuesday night. “Anything you feel you need for authority or assistance from us or the state, we’re here to help.”

Some commissioners, though, are already balking at the notion of redoing the flawed reval or providing refunds for abused taxpayers, pressing the premise that it would be overly complicated and too difficult to obtain the required authority.

“It always interests me when my colleagues politicize what is obviously a flawed process,” said Democrat Commissioner George Dunlap, one of three commissioners, along with Democrats Dumont Clarke and Vilma Leake, who originally opposed seeking an independent reval review. “They do that to get great cheers and raise hopes and aspirations about what might happen.

“For those who aspire to get refunds, I’m not saying it’s not possible, but consider all the implications,” Dunlap said. “If tax values are high in Cornelius that means the Cornelius [town] board received dollars that would be refunded as well; that means Huntersville received dollars that would be refunded as well. Because all of this money supports these various towns.”

The government, in other words, should be able to  keep the money it fleeced from taxpayers.

Democrat Commissioner Jennifer Roberts also noted her concerns about “putting forth expectations of refunds” when there were legal and myriad other difficulties still to be addressed, including how any potential reval revisions would impact the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg’s six smaller towns.

James tacked in the exact opposite direction.

“We need to specifically say the 2011 revaluation is screwed up and it’s our job as commissioners to fix it and we’re going to give refunds to the people who deserve it,” James said. “The public deserves tax refunds.”

Deserves, however, might have little to do with any eventual outcome, a sobering reality noted by Republican Commissioner Jim Pendergraph, who said that while he agrees a reval redo and refunds are in order, “I’ve found that nothing is simple when you deal with the legislature.”

“I don’t want to throw water on your fire,” he said, “but to say that there are people in favor of passing legislation to allow some of the things we’re talking about, I don’t think there’s anyone here who can guarantee that.”

Donate Now!We need your help! If you like PunditHouse, please consider donating to us. Even $5 a month can make a difference!

Short URL:

Comments are closed