CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- State Sen. Jeff Tarte said Monday that refunds to taxpayers overbilled because of the flawed 2011 revaluation might have to wait two to three years.
The refunds will be delayed until Mecklenburg County “cleans up” a property database that hasn’t been updated in 17 years.
That would mean taxpayers overbilled by the 2011 revaluation could be owed four to five years of refunds, Tarte said.
“There’d be some large refunds,” he said. “Something would have to be worked out so the county doesn’t take such a big hit all at once.”
Tarte, of Cornelius, and Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews hope to introduce a bill in Raleigh next week that would give the county authority to update the property database. He plans to meet with Mecklenburg commissioners Friday to brief them on the bill.
Because revaluations are governed by state law, the county needs legislative permission to restore the database, set new values on properties and provide refunds.
As the former Cornelius mayor, Tarte was a leader in the countywide protest by taxpayers who complained their properties were inflated in the 2011 revaluation.
Momentum for a revaluation redo and refunds began after a county-hired consultant, Pearson’s Appraisal Service, found dozens of major and minor flaws in 15 percent of Mecklenburg neighborhoods that it surveyed last year.
In late November, Mecklenburg commissioners hired Pearson’s to continue surveying all neighborhoods – starting with ones with major flaws. That began in early January.
In its initial survey, Pearson’s discovered that a database that records what is on each parcel hadn’t been updated in 17 years.
Tarte said “reliable sources” have told him that 40 percent of the data is currently “corrupt.”
“It’s the wrong data,” Tarte told the Observer. “It’s bad data.”
To record proper data on Mecklenburg’s 336,000 parcels would take two to three years, with 50 percent to 66 percent of the parcels being physically verified.
“That means they’d have to be walked over,” Tarte said experts at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government have told him.
He said there’s no use in setting the correct 2011 values until the data is corrected.
The bill that Tarte and Brawley are drafting has support from legislators from across the state, Tarte said.
It would also allow Mecklenburg to retroactively set new values to Jan. 1, 2011.
Since it would take two to three years to fix the database, he and Brawley are proposing that the county do a “dual revaluation,” setting values for 2011 and 2015 or 2016.
“It makes no sense to do another revaluation until the database is cleaned up. They’d be creating more garbage. The tax bills would still be in error,” Tarte said. “After all the correct data is in place, it would be more cost effective to do two revaluations at the same time.”
The only taxpayers who’d be eligible for refunds before new values are set would be those who have appealed to the county or state and their properties were found to be overvalued, Tarte said.
In addition to refunds, the bill would allow the county to send higher bills to taxpayers whose properties were undervalued, which Pearson’s stressed will happen.
“They would also have to be identified,” Tarte said. “But there’d likely be some restriction. I don’t think we’d allow the county to bill those folks for four or five years – but maybe for a year or two.
“The county screwed up the process. Our intent would be to limit the county on how many years it’s entitled to collect.”
Tarte said he and Brawley are going to great pains to make sure everything is legal and that once the database is corrected and each parcel is valued properly “this never occurs again.”
“Bottom line, the citizens deserve a fair and accurate market value on their property,” he said. “Hopefully if we do this properly, this never, ever, happens again.”