Area’s county commissioner worries leaders will push for tax hike to pay some $22M in refunds

South Charlotte’s representative on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners said this week a reserve fund should be established to pay off future property tax refunds caused by the flawed 2011 property tax revaluation, and that raising taxes to fix the problem is simply “rewarding bad behavior.”

Commissioners heard a report from County Manager Harry Jones this week that said the county could lose $54 million due to the much-maligned revaluation – $32 million from the county’s operating budget and another $22 million, at least, to pay refunds to over-taxed homeowners, many of which live in south Charlotte and north Mecklenburg.

“From my perspective, I have an issue with allowing tax refunds to be taken from ‘fund balance’ (the county’s savings),” Commissioner Bill James, who covers south Mecklenburg, said in an email to constituents this week. “I believe that a reserve should be established to pay for anticipated prior refunds.”

James said paying off the refunds without a tax hike would involve adding to the more than $32 million in cuts to the county budget, which are already expected after this week’s county meeting. But it’s medicine county leaders will have to take, he said, instead of punishing taxpayers for the county’s mistake.

“Raising taxes to pay for refunds … is rewarding bad behavior,” James said. “The government took money from taxpayers they weren’t entitled to by force and now that they have to give it back and reduce their budgets. It would be inappropriate to raise taxes on people to pay for those refunds.”

Meanwhile, James said the reductions will impact both the city’s budget and that of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The county also discussed a bill in the N.C. General Assembly that will make way for refunds to be issued to Mecklenburg County residents. The bill, co-sponsored by a number of Mecklenburg County representatives and senators, was submitted earlier this month.

“The 2011 revaluation and its consequent problems are an important issue in Mecklenburg County, and in District 105 in particular, and we have been looking into this situation over the last several months,” said new N.C. Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, who represents south Charlotte’s District 105 in Raleigh. “Even since before taking office in January, I have been hearing from many concerned property owners regarding what to do (about what) appear to be instances of flawed and skewed revaluations. As a result, it would seem that a new revaluation is needed. It’s an important issue, and I’m certainly committed to identifying a fair solution to remedy the problem.”

Pearson’s Appraisal Service, the group hired by the county to review the property tax revaluation, continues to identify neighborhoods where major and minor revaluation errors occurred. Some south Charlotte neighborhoods included in the list of those seeing “minor” errors include the Park Road Extension area, Huntingtowne Farms, Park Road, Carmel Road at Sharon View Road, Charing Place, Sardis Road North, Oberbeck Farms, Shadow Lake, Stonecroft, Carmel at Interstate 485, Berkeley, Oxford at Southampton and Raeburn, according to Pearson’s. “Major” problems were seen in the Governor’s Square area, Pellyn Woods, Sharon Woods, Lake Providence, Providence Plantation and Glyndebourne.

Meanwhile, the assessor’s office recently announced the launch of a new online tool to allow property owners to see how their property is listed. The change is a direct result of the ongoing revaluation review and was developed by Pearson’s after the review group found information about many properties was incorrect or out of date in the county’s system. Find more information on the tool at the assessor’s website, www.charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/AssessorsOffice/Pages/default.aspx.

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