Wed November 21, 2012
Meck Tax Assessor Resigns, Faulty Reval Stymies Commission
The tax assessor who oversaw Mecklenburg County's much-maligned 2011 revaluation is out. County Commissioners announced Tuesday night that assessor Garrett Alexander has resigned, but they put off a final decision on how to handle problems with the revaluation.
It was an awkward night for County Manager Harry Jones. Eight months ago he was adamant the revaluation did not need reexamining.
"I believe this action is neither necessary, nor appropriate," said Jones at the county commission's May 1st meeting. "There is no statistical evidence that indicates county staff did not follow statutory guidelines and/or state law in conducting the revaluation."
Commissioners ordered the review anyway and it turned up evidence that potentially 10 percent of Mecklenburg County neighborhoods were assessed unfairly. Reviewers also found terrible customer service at the tax assessor's office and discovered it had been 17 years since appraisers had visited properties in-person to update information in the county's records.
All of which led County Manager Harry Jones to say this Tuesday night: "I was wrong back in May when I made the recommendation that we did not need to undertake the audit."
County Commissioner Bill James welcomed that admission - sort of: "That's all well and good, but the board has a responsibility to the thousands of people – tens of thousands of people – who've been wronged by this."
James is happy to see Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander go, but he'd like to take the county manager out of the loop too – and have an outside firm redo the 2011 revaluation, reporting directly to the County Commission.
Oh, and he wants the county to refund everyone who's paid too much property tax these last two years as a result of the problem. The county can't actually do that without getting a change in state law.
And even then, it's a minefield, said Commissioner Jennifer Roberts: "Do we refund current owners or former owners? Because many properties will have changed hands during that time. Do we refund those who've already appealed and got a decrease? Because what if the new value comes in as higher?"
And what about the property taxes Charlotte and the six towns in Mecklenburg County have already collected – and spent – based on the faulty revaluation?
County commissioners are stymied about how to move forward.
Last night they opted to delay another week and meet next Tuesday at 3 p.m. for one last stab at a solution. Otherwise, they'll be forced to punt the problem to a new county commission that includes four fresh faces set to be sworn in December 3rd.