- Waste-management fee raised
- Calls for social services increase
On the agenda for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners' June 16 meeting, the matter was simply labeled “Resolution Rescinding Resolution 06-08-06,” but what it meant was far more complex, as the commissioners decided to postpone the county's next property-tax revaluation until 2014.
The last revaluation was conducted in 2006 — at the height of the local housing boom – and at that time, the board scheduled the next revaluation for 2010.
Since then, however, the economy has declined sharply, led by a flailing housing market.
One might expect this to lead to lower property values, and thus lower taxes. But instead, Tax Department Director Gary Roberts asked the board to delay the revaluation, predicting that if it were done next year, homeowners would probably see their property taxes rise by 5 to 7 percent.
“With the markets changing as quickly as they are, this is not a good time to do a reappraisal,” Roberts told the commissioners. “I don't like to come to you like this, but I never thought I'd see housing values change the way they have.”
Property values, he said, continued to rise during 2007 and part of 2008, and though they've since declined some, they're still higher than they were in 2006, according to figures from the N.C. Department of Revenue.
State law requires counties to revalue property only once every eight years. Counties may choose to do so more recently and can change the schedule at any time, unless current market values are out of line with assessed values by at least 15 percent — in which case a revaluation is mandatory. But the board has been scheduling revaluations every four years, ostensibly in an effort to keep tax values consistent with market values and thus avoid huge, sudden jumps in individual homeowners' tax bills amid rising prices.
“I don't think our community is anywhere near where the national average is [in terms of the drop in housing prices], but we have had a slight decrease” from the peak of the boom, noted Roberts. “I think it will probably last just a little bit longer.”
In its current form, the proposed county budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $5.9 million in spending cuts and maintains the current tax rate (52.5 cents per $100 of assessed value).
Asked if there was a particular type of home or area where values have declined, Roberts told Xpress: “Are there property values that are overvalued or undervalued today? Yes, we have appeals every day, and if our citizens truly believe their values are incorrect, we'll be happy to sit down with them.”
On a 4-0 vote, the board delayed the next revaluation until 2014. (Commissioner Holly Jones was on vacation.)
“There's no question that if a citizen has a question, you're open to discussing the situation,” said Commissioner Carol Peterson, noting that Roberts was recently named “Tax Collector of the Year” by the N.C. Tax Collectors' Association.
“The bottom line is that, in tough economic times, this is the better course of action,” asserted Commissioner K. Ray Bailey.
Board Chair David Gantt, meanwhile, touted the move as a way to save taxpayers money.
“A lot of tax collectors wouldn't come in and make this request, because it probably hurts us: We won't make as much money,” said Gantt. “But it's the right thing to do. People are hurting; people are in bad shape. This is the time that no one asked for and no one anticipated, and I think this is a good way to handle it. It's a fair thing for people that are hurting.”
But Enka resident (and longtime Board of Commissioners watchdog) Jerry Rice wasn't buying. “The only reason I see for delaying is that you're going to get your money anyway,” he declared. “You can't fool all of the people all of the time. If property values are going down across the country, rescinding this is a joke. You're not giving people anything.”
Buncombe isn't the only Western North Carolina county to take this step. Watauga and Haywood counties have also delayed their revaluations.
Waste not want not
Buncombe County's Solid Waste Services Department also came forward to discuss planned improvements and the need to increase the monthly trash-hauling fee to about $14.70.
“We need this to break even: to service our debt and keep the county's good credit rating,” Landfill Manager Jerry Mears explained. “Our expenditures have to meet our revenues. A lot of counties are much higher … than we are. We're under a majority of counties across the state.”
Other county staff confirmed that such an increase would be necessary to continue servicing the department's debt.
A presentation by Waste Engineer Mark Sanford touted increased recycling, a new drainage system that has extended the landfill's life by more than a decade, and a planned project to harness methane gas from the landfill to generate energy.
Just a phone call away
The commissioners also heard a report from the administrators of United Way's 211 phone line, which steers callers to a variety of social services and has seen a substantial increase in the number of calls.
“The face of the person who is asking for help is changing – these are people that haven't had to ask for help before,” 211 Director Rachael Nygaard of United Way told the board. “It's tough; people are struggling. Our call volume is up 12 percent. People are asking for help for the first time, and they're in bigger crises, with more complex situations. The length of the call and the number of needs they have are both up.”
Many people, she explained, need help paying rent and utility bills, and 211 quickly connects them to the right agency — a process that otherwise typically involves seven separate phone calls.