Mecklenburg County will have $44.8 million more than expected for the next budget year, with most of the money coming from taxes from the 2011 property revaluation.
Finance Director Dena Diorio said fewer taxpayers than expected have won appeals over the course of the year.
County Manager Harry Jones won’t unveil his recommendations for the 2012-2013 budget until
Tuesday, but Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners Chairman Harold Cogdell said recently the board had a “real opportunity” to pass a new budget with a small tax break and still offer services the county needs.
Cogdell said that after talking to Jones, he believes recent signs of an improving economy – including increased sales tax revenue – could allow the board to help taxpayers already stung by last year’s revaluation.
“We’ve seen some reliable indicators that our economy is gradually returning to a growth mode,” Cogdell said.
Cogdell could not say what the county manager will recommend in his budget.
“As a board, we need to have discussions not only on the school system’s requests, but requests from libraries and other community partnerships and understand there are needs within our county departments.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh has requested $355.9 million, $27.5 million more than the school board asked for last year.
When county officials worked on the current budget that ends June 30, Diorio said they assumed appeals would bring a $6 billion reduction in the property tax base.
That figure, county officials said, represented a conservative worst-case scenario estimate.
But the county so far has lost $2.1 billion from its tax base due to successful tax appeals from property owners.
“The fact that the values are holding under appeal is an indication that the revaluation was done correctly,” Diorio said.
The appeals process
Mecklenburg Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander said by the end of this fiscal year, appeals losses will approach $3 billion with half the appeals waiting to be heard by the Board of Equalization and Review.
The Board of Equalization and Review, a citizen’s panel that considers formal appeals, hears roughly 75 appeals cases a day, three times a week, assistant assessor Eric Anderson said.
Alexander also said this current fiscal year’s surplus and additional revenue expected in the coming year is not just due to property taxes, but also sales tax revenue and the growth in the tax base. Through April of this year, the county has $7.2 million more in sales taxes than budgeted.
The county’s tax base currently is $115.4 billion, Alexander said.
The county assessor’s office so far has reduced approximately $1.4 billion value for informal appeals, and the Board of Equalization and Review has reduced property value by approximately $825 million, Alexander said.
Property owners who challenge revaluations first must file an informal appeal within 30 days of getting the revaluation. If the appeal is rejected, a property owner can appeal to the Board of Equalization review, and if their appeal is still rejected, they can go to the State Property Tax Commission.
Of the total 10,075 appeals to the Board of Equalization and Review, 6,250 were heard; 3,966 closed with a decrease in property value; 209 closed with an increase in property value, and 2,075 closed without any change, Alexander said. Criticisms of the revaluation
North Carolina law mandates counties must revalue all real property at least once every eight years. Mecklenburg County’s last revaluation was in 2003.
County officials have faced criticism from property owners about appeals from the 2011 revaluation.
At a meeting May 1, several residents spoke up in favor of an audit, and many held signs with the message “Fix It!”
At that meeting, Mecklenburg commissioners directed Jones by a 6-3 vote to bring recommendations by June 19 on who could conduct an independent review of the 2011 property revaluation.
Some property owners have complained about how the county factored in the impact of foreclosures in some neighborhoods and how land values were assigned to some properties. The county has long defended the revaluation, though commissioners and others have acknowledged they could have done a better job in communicating with the public.
The county tax rate is 81.66 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Commissioners last June dropped the rate by about two cents, but many property owners still paid more because the rate was applied to new, higher property values.