By Scott Jenkins
The Rowan County Assessor’s Office had received more than 3,000 revaluation appeals by Friday afternoon. None of them came from the county’s top-ranking elected officials.
In a year when tax values followed sales prices and dropped across the county and officials had projected 10,000 appeals or more, Tax Administrator Robert Rowland said 97 percent of the appeals are from property owners who think their new values are too high.
All five county commissioners saw the tax values on their properties decrease in a recessionary revaluation that lopped a chunk off Rowan’s tax base and made hard decisions in a bad budget year even tougher.
http://www.salisburypost.com/homevalues/ While commissioners said their lower values weren’t really surprising — tax assessors have been bracing the whole county for months — one said he would have appealed his new tax value if he had proof it was too low.
“From a personal standpoint, I wish it had not decreased,” Board of Commissioners Chairman Chad Mitchell said. “I honestly thought about appealing it, but to be honest, I figured if the tax office had looked at it, I don’t have any documentation to appeal with.”
The value of Mitchell’s home at 2023 Brown St. in Faith declined by about 8.3 percent. The values of houses surrounding his dropped by anywhere from 1 percent to 13 percent.
Mitchell said he believes “there are always going to be some people that don’t like the way it looks” when a commissioner’s tax bill goes down, but he’d rather pay more tax and “not lose the value of something I’ve invested in.”
“If I had a recent appraisal, I certainly would have appealed,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to pay 300 bucks or more for an appraisal to only verify what the tax office said, potentially.”
Mitchell said he’s one of the few people he knows who are unhappy their tax values have declined. Many thought their properties “were overvalued before, so they saw this as an adjustment, as it were, to get back down to where properties should be.”
The lower values will force the county government to make more adjustments as it faced an upcoming fiscal year with a $3 million budget gap before revaluation cut the tax base by 3 percent, equal to another $2.5 million or more.
Commissioners have already begun debating whether to set a “revenue neutral” property tax rate, or one that would bring in the same amount of money next year as the current rate did this year. This year, that would mean hiking the rate from 59.5 cents to 62.08 cents per $100 of assessed property value, according to the county’s finance department.
Mitchell said he would be open to starting with the higher tax rate and cutting from there. Commissioner Raymond Coltrain said he would support increasing the tax rate to revenue neutral and keeping it there.
“I will be voting, if I have the chance, for us to stay revenue neutral, meaning I want us as taxpayers to write the same check we wrote last year … because that’s what we’ve got to do as a county for services to remain the same, even with some additional cuts,” Coltrain said.
According to the county’s assessors, increasing the tax rate wouldn’t mean that everyone writes a check for the same amount as last year, and it wouldn’t affect Coltrain and others who own property like his as much as it would some other county residents.
The tax value of Coltrain’s home at 518 Confederate Ave. in the Country Club section of Salisbury decreased by about 4 percent. That’s in keeping with the declines his neighbors experienced and less than the larger devaluations officials have said higher-priced homes might sustain.
But the values of moderately priced homes were expected to stay flat or even rise in some cases since sales of those stayed relatively steady during the past couple of years as the market stagnated for higher-priced homes.
Coltrain acknowledges that and points out that he opposed going ahead with the revaluation this year because the county “did not have enough valid sales there to make that decision.”
Rowland, who had proposed delaying the revaluation, said his office had between 1,200 and 1,300 valid transactions — those not forced through foreclosure or short sales — to work with this time, as opposed to the 6,000 to 7,000 normally used in the process.
“Those decisions are affecting a lot of people’s lives,” Coltrain said. “And there’s just not enough data there to make those decisions.”
At a November meeting, only Coltrain and Commissioner Jon Barber supported delaying the revaluation. Barber, who could not be reached for an interview Friday, saw the tax value of his farm on Umberger Road in western Rowan decrease by 6 percent.
Mitchell, Vice Chairman Carl Ford and Commissioner Jim Sides voted then to go ahead with the revaluation. Mitchell said one of his reasons for doing so — the belief that most people wouldn’t mind their tax values going down — has been borne out by the small number of appeals filed to challenge lower values and the fact that he hasn’t heard from many people upset about it.
Ford said he sure doesn’t mind a smaller tax bill, though the 6.7 percent drop in the tax value of his home at 320 Ketchie Estate Road in southern Rowan was bigger than he expected and a larger decrease than the neighbors nearest him.
Still, Ford said of his new tax value, “I wasn’t shocked or surprised. … It is what it is.” And Ford said he hasn’t heard from nearly as many people as he thought he would upset with their new values.
“To be honest, I thought I was going to be inundated with people complaining about it, and I haven’t,” he said. Of those he has talked with about the revaluation, Ford said he’s heard “people complaining both ways” — some who think their new values are too high and some who think they’re too low.
He did hear from one property owner upset that his tax value declined only 15 percent instead of the 30 percent he thought it should.
Regardless of how the decreased values affect the county’s tax base, Ford said cuts over the past couple of years have already helped, and he opposes raising property taxes, even to a revenue-neutral rate.
“I’m in favor of leaving taxes right where they are or going down,” he said. “I just know it’s tough out there for everybody.”
Sides also said he won’t vote anything more than the current tax rate except a 0.3-cent increase to pay for $3 million in emergency repairs needed at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Salisbury campus.
He said the county can use money “which I’m sorry to say happens to be sitting in somebody else’s bank account.” Sides advocates taking $4 million from savings — including $1 million from Rowan-Salisbury School System savings — to help balance the county budget and give county employees a one-time $500 bonus.
As for Sides’ own savings, the new tax value on his home at 150 Henkle Craig Farm Road in western Rowan will help. The value declined about 6.5 percent, close to the drops his neighbors saw.
“I’m certainly satisfied that it went down a few dollars instead of going up,” Sides said. The value of a warehouse he owns at 165 Henkle Craig Farm fell 9 percent, while a piece of land he owns adjacent to his house increased 2 percent in tax value.
Rowland, the tax administrator, said land values across the county were steadier than properties with homes or commercial structures, and properties with homes where land made up a large part of the value fared better than bigger houses on small lots.
And he said a lot of factors besides comparable sales went into determining values. Those include how well the properties are maintaining and whether an owner has made an addition since the last time the county set tax values.
Rowland said an addition helped maintain the value of one of his Rowan properties. A waterfront home on Crane View Road lost 3.5 percent of its tax value, about the same as neighbors’ properties. His house on Rugby Road in Salisbury’s Country Club Hills, though, lost only 2 percent of its value, a third of the drop his nearest neighbors saw. He credits a new screened porch for the difference.
“It would have gone down more had I not added that small screened porch that my wife’s been wanting for a long time,” he said.
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248.
By Scott Jenkins