By Jonathan Austin
Yancey County News
The Yancey County Board of Commissioners have approved an unscheduled property tax revaluation to address unexplained “inaccuracies” that apparently let some property owners pay much less in taxes than they should.
“We have some issues now” in assuring the accuracy and fairness in the way property taxes are set, Timothy Cain, the man whose company performed the 2008 revaluation, told commissioners in a specially called meeting on Tuesday.
Cain said the county must re-establish “transparency, accountability and simplification” in the property-tax system so that the responsibility of financing the county budget is shared equally by rich and poor.
Citing industry benchmarks, Cain told the commission that the data from what was considered the best revaluation in the region in 2008 has been altered to let some property owners pay much less in property tax than the true value of their land would dictate.
He said the “coefficiency of dispersion” rate - or the determination of how close property assessments were to actual value - were “the best in Western North Carolina” when his company completed the 2008 revaluation. But since then, “we went from the best in Western North Carolina to 99th in the state.”
The result, he said, is that too much of the money needed to make budget is being levied on “the guy in the doublewide” and too little on owners of larger swaths of property in Yancey County.
Cain said the county could rebalance the system with a new revaluation in 2012, and that the cost of the unexpected accounting would be paid for out of the taxes collected from the appraisal.
The proposal seemed to catch some commissioners off guard, with Republicans Michele Presnell and Marvin Holland repeatedly questioning Cain of the need for such a drastic step.
“Why do we want to do another” revaluation, Presnell asked.
Cain said he felt the data is so skewed in 2011 that it “is no longer reflective of our work. I want it right.”
“So what happened?” Presnell asked, to which Cain only slowly shook his head without speaking.
Cain later told the Yancey County News that the problem appears to be that someone went into the files and lowered the tax values of some properties for no legitimate reason.
He and County Manager Nathan Bennett said too many property owners in the county were either assigned ‘present use’ discounts or were approved for the substantial savings when there was no evidence the land qualified.
‘Present use’ is a property value reduction policy intended for property owners who can show that their land is and will be used for agriculture.
But to qualify, “you have to have a set minimum of acreage and a dollar value of farm income,” Bennett said. “It has to be a working (farm) operation,” he said. Likewise, land used for timber harvest can qualify for lower taxes with the guidance of a forester and a long-term plan.
The county will send letters out to every property owner who is benefiting from present use status, Bennett said, asking them to verify that they do have an operating farm and that their qualification for the tax break is legitimate. “It’s basically an audit.”
The decision to approve the revaluation passed on a party-line vote, with the three Democrats voting to approve it and the two Republicans voting to oppose it.
Cain told the board that the revaluation will cost “less than half” of what the 2008 revaluation cost.”
The 2008 revaluation cost the county $306,000.
The revaluation could help large property owners and developers like Mountain Air, which has appealed its tax bill to state court, claiming the estimates were too high.
Search the county property tax map online!