Commission approves rules for 2021 property revaluation

Downtown Asheville night skyline from Town Mountain
ALL THAT GLITTERS: Properties from downtown Asheville to the rural reaches of Buncombe County will get new taxable values in 2021. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County

The clock is now running for Buncombe County property owners. After a unanimous Board of Commissioners vote on Sept. 1 to adopt a new Schedule of Values — the regulations used by Buncombe tax assessors to determine how much all property in the county is worth — owners have until Friday, Oct. 2, to file an appeal over the rules.

To learn the substance of those rules, however, taxpayers must visit the office of Keith Miller, the county’s tax assessor. The current document is not available online and must be viewed in person at 155 Hilliard Ave. in Asheville during regular business hours. (The Schedule of Values for the county’s most recent revaluation, conducted in 2017, is available at avl.mx/85v.)

Buncombe County has conducted revaluations on a four-year cycle since 2013, twice as often as required by North Carolina law. Due to the county’s strong real estate market, Miller told commissioners, values must be updated more frequently to ensure that all property owners are paying taxes based on the true worth of their assets.

“We need to keep in mind that reappraisal is about equalization,” Miller said. “The market changes differently in different areas of the county. You may be able to go east and see that we’re at 80% [of market value]; you may be able to go west and we’re at 90%. [Revaluation] brings all those values back in line with the market to again assure the citizen that they’re only paying their fair share.”

Commissioner Joe Belcher emphasized that revaluation itself does not necessarily lead to a higher tax bill. The amount a property owner pays on the assessed value of their property, he noted, depends on the property tax rate, which is set by the Board of Commissioners as part of the county’s budget process.

“There is no tax increase associated with this whatsoever,” Belcher said. “If the media’s reporting anything different, it is not accurate. It is not true. And whatever that headline may or may not be, this has nothing to do with a tax increase.”

Previous county revaluations, however, have been associated with significant tax increases for many property owners. After the most recent revaluation in 2017, for example, the board set a property tax rate 2.6 cents higher than the revenue-neutral rate.

Annual property taxes on a house worth $300,000 prior to the 2017 revaluation, assessed at the 2016 rate of 60.4 cents, were $1,812. While the tax rate decreased to 53.9 cents after the revaluation, average property values also increased 28%. Therefore, an average $300,000 house was worth $384,000 after the revaluation and faced a 2017 tax bill of about $2,070 — a 14.2% rise over the previous year.

New property values are scheduled to be mailed to owners on Saturday, Jan. 30. Owners may then appeal their new valuations through Wednesday, April 14.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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12 thoughts on “Commission approves rules for 2021 property revaluation

  1. Liam

    If no effect on property taxes, then why any need to revaluate outside of the four-year cycle? He claims ” …values must be updated more frequently to ensure that all property owners are paying taxes based on the true worth of their assets.”, as if property owners are worried they’re not paying enough in property taxes. I get the distinct feeling this city government sits around figuring out ways to spend tax dollars and then work up phony rationales to raise property taxes on working citizens of Asheville. This guy is one more clown in Asheville’s governing circus.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      DUH, Liam…it’s about Buncombe County, but with 66% of the county living outside the city, it’s time to combine city and county
      so that EVERYONE has a seat at the AVL/Buncombe Council table! TIME to consolidate city and county !!!
      The elitist all democrackkk city council controls FAR TOO MUCH around here and they need to be brought to their knees right NOW.

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      • dyfed

        Obvious false-flag. Absolutely nobody in the county outside city limits, especially not conservatives, wants to combine city/county. We are quite content ruling ourselves, thank you very much.

  2. Charlie

    Why not post the “Schedule of Values” online? How hard can that be? I have to go to Hillard Ave. to view a paper copy of the revised rules? What the hell? That seems like nothing but making it as hard as possible to first get the information and then to object to it, should a property owner decide to do so. This smells bad. Do the right thing and post the rules for property owners to see.

    • G Man

      Just remember, if we don’t deliver a ballot to a voter’s home, show the voter how to check the box, finish checking the boxes for them, and deliver the ballot back to the BOE to be counted (the process is a bit simpler for dead voters), then we are accused of “voter suppression”. But, if you want to object to, or even know the rules for property valuation and taxes, you have to travel to one particular office downtown “in the middle of a pandemic”. You don’t even get a copy in your neighborhood.

      Can somebody explain to me how this procedure is not racist but asking people to go to the polling places to vote is?

    • luther blissett

      You mean something that makes housing even more unaffordable to those who don’t already own or inherit it? Something that creates huge disparities based upon when a home was built or sold? Something that distorts the market to discourage new residential construction because it’s better for municipalities to zone for uses that maximize revenue? (Look at studies on the “fiscalization of land use.” There are already big property tax breaks for seniors.

      The Schedule of Values should obviously be available to the public. (“It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.'”) It would be terrible if someone snuck a phone in to Keith Miller’s office, took a bunch of photos with a scanner app, and posted them online, and I wouldn’t recommend that at all.

      That said: state law requires the sales/assessment ratio to remain above 90%, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of upward movement in the half-million dollar home range. But if that’s the case, it should be done with transparency. And it’s worth looking at the recent research that shows Black homeowners routinely receive lower commercial appraisals than comparables — often lower than county assessments — and that’s a de facto subsidy to white homeowners.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/25/realestate/blacks-minorities-appraisals-discrimination.html

      • G Man

        Appraisers don’t determine actual wealth. Appraisers provide a number for a given purpose whether that be for tax assessment, a mortgage loan, line of credit, etc. The same appraiser may come to different valuations of the same property depending on the reason for the valuation. What determines an actual value for a property is a buyer. It is worth whatever someone will pay for it at a given time.

        Fake numbers do not subsidize anybody nor do they punish others. A low appraisal could lead to years and years of paying less property taxes. Would that not help to promote wealth rather than take away from it?

        Anyone receiving a commercial appraisal lower than a tax assessment should definitely appeal one of those numbers, even if the homeowners are white or brown.

        • luther blissett

          I take your point and endorse your recommendation. It’s unfortunate that the disparity between tax assessment and commercial appraisal often only emerges when a homeowner seeks a refinance or receives an offer to buy, at which point the comparables suddenly cease to be comparable.

          State law (NC GS 105-283) requires property tax assessment at “true value” and defines true value as:

          “the price estimated in terms of money at which the property would change hands between a willing and financially able buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of all the uses to which the property is adapted and for which it is capable of being used.”

          All very reasonable. I suspect most homeowners in Buncombe are assessed at a little lower than their guesstimate of the market value. And you want the assessment to be colorblind. But it’s hard to reconcile that with a market that isn’t colorblind — not just in minority neighborhoods but when it’s minority homeowners in white neighborhoods.

          It’s also hard to reconcile it with gentrification that doesn’t have a racial component. If Les and Angela from California come in and pay $450,000 sight unseen for a home currently assessed in the 300s, it’s telling you something else about “true value” and while it substantially raises the neighbors’ paper wealth it also comes with a bill.

          These are hard problems that don’t fit standard ideological frameworks. Municipalities aren’t granted many guaranteed revenue-collection powers outside of property taxes so it’s a very blunt instrument.

          (Selectively using commercial appraisals to reduce a property’s tax assessment but elevate the value for sale, refinance or debt collateral would, of course, be pretty sketchy.)

          • G Man

            I don’t really think we are disagreeing on anything here other than semantics.

            Your example of someone paying 450 for a home “worth” 300 is clearly an example of a buy with “compulsion to buy”.

            I would never endorse or agree with a person’s race being a factor in a property appraisal (or anything else for that matter) and I’m sure it happens regularly. Even still, I think it is a problem with the specific individuals performing the valuations, not necessarily a systemic issue. We seem to have lost the meaning of many words in our native language lately, probably because so many folks just simply don’t bother to actually understand language. Systemic would imply that it ALWAYS happens, not sometimes or frequently, but ALWAYS. I do not believe that is the case. Does it happen more than it should? Yes, I would certainly agree with that because it should never happen. Is it systemic? No, I don’t think it is. I hear a lot of talk about “work to be done”. This is a good example. Do the work to root out the individuals who are doing this and take away their license and/or reputation. Deciding to tear complete systems down and rebuild from scratch is actually avoiding doing the necessary work and an excuse to be lawless.

            Fix our broken systems instead of tearing them down. This is still the best country in the world to live in and I totally disagree with the America haters wanting to turn it into another European country, or worse yet, another China, where the discrimination against minorities and slavery are worse than any other country has ever been, but many folks want to look past that to see the dollar signs.

            I guess we all hold onto our own lies.

          • luther blissett

            I think we’re meeting in a worthwhile place here.

            Fixing systems means acknowledging where and how they’re broken, and often what appears to be broken is the consequence of more substantial failures that can’t be fixed because they happened so far back, but can be avoided next time round. There are limits to root-cause analysis, whether it’s in workplaces or society, but if a bridge collapses then you start thinking about design flaws or deferred maintenance and then start thinking about budget cuts or misplaced priorities or bona fide political corruption over who gets to pour the concrete and whether the systems in place have enough accountability and oversight to make the next bridge less likely to collapse.

            If you accept the premise that property ownership is the basis of intergenerational middle-class wealth in America — and I think we’d both agree on that, especially after decades of wage stagnation — then you have to think about disparities in property ownership. If only 1% of appraisals are lowballs that don’t get challenged, that still adds up over time. (The whole ‘Karen’ thing has gone overboard, but it’s worth thinking about who feels most comfortable challenging authority by complaining to the manager or appealing a decision or filing a lawsuit.)

            Anyway: revenue sources for municipalities are like a toolbox that contains only a hammer with a loose handle (property tax) and a flathead screwdriver (sales tax revenues). Every so often you have to whack the hammer head back in place, and if you can’t rely on the screwdriver for a bunch of screws. So property taxes get modified by breaks to seniors or farms etc. on one side and by re-assessment on the other, and sales tax rates get tweaked to try and make revenue more consistent.

            Are there better ways to fund local government? (This would require changes to state law, so it relies upon legislators elsewhere in the state.) Are there local-government funding models in other states or countries that don’t lean so heavily on property valuations? Is that a fix to the system or a teardown and rebuild?

          • G Man

            I’d say you hit the nail on the head (with the loose handled hammer) with your mention of “accountability and oversight”. These are the 2 major contributors (well, lack of these things) to most of our government corruption. Our decision-makers become only accountable to those who are lining their pockets and the oversight gets buried in the red tape.

            I think anybody who has lead a “normal life” (meaning that we have to budget our money) knows that there are 2 ways to balance a budget; one is to increase revenue and the other is to decrease spending. Our government, on all levels, only recognizes one of those methods. No need to cut spending when there is no oversight or accountability.

            If we had a system where government spending actually required public voting, there would be a new system of accountability. Lobbyists and developers and PACs would have no need to corrupt the politicians by stuffing dollars in their pockets and could instead spend their money educating the public (campaigning) as to why the public should vote for a particular spending package.

            Another big step would be to eliminate pork. We need to have rules that force breaking up bills and proposals into smaller pieces when approval is stalled. I understand that combining a thing you want with a thing I want is how politics works, but far too often things just come to a grinding halt over excessive attachments.

            Of course I digress. The point is that we definitely need a better system of accountability and oversight. Any “new systems” would require the same or be doomed to failure before it even got started. So, let’s do the work we know needs to be done and quit trying to tear everything down.

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