Editor’s note: This article was updated on April 8. Please see additional information at the end of the article.
Since 1988, Buncombe County has reappraised real property every four years with the exception of 2010, county tax director Gary Roberts told commissioners at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, March 1. Due to economic conditions during the recessionary period leading up to 2010 and the resulting instability in the real estate market, the Commissioners voted to delay the 2010 reappraisal until 2013, which was the most recent reappraisal. At last night’s meeting, Roberts asked Commissioners to approve a new reappraisal cycle, with new valuations becoming effective on Jan. 1, 2017.
After Roberts’ presentation and discussion among Commissioners, the board split the question with a 3-3 vote along party lines, with Democrats David Gantt, Holly Jones and Brownie Newman voting in favor of the reappraisal and Republicans Joe Belcher, Miranda DeBruhl and Mike Fryar opposed. District 2 Commissioner Ellen Frost, a Democrat, was absent from the meeting.
According to commission attorney Bob Deutsch, the issue may be placed on the agenda of a subsequent meeting. Kathy Hughes, clerk for the board, said after the meeting that the next date at which the item could be considered is April 5.
Roberts presents overview
North Carolina requires counties to reappraise properties at least every eight years, Roberts explained. Additionally, counties with populations larger than 75,000 must reappraise real property when appraised values are less than 85% or greater than 115% of average market values, he continued.
Due to a strengthening real estate market, Buncombe County has now fallen below the 85% appraised to market value ratio, which will trigger a mandatory reappraisal, Roberts said. Though he has not yet “received the letter” from the state Department of Revenue, he assured commissioners that it is coming. Voluntarily advancing Buncombe County’s reappraisal schedule, he explained, would allow the county to proceed in an orderly fashion on its own terms.
Another reason to proceed with a reappraisal is fairness, Roberts continued. Values in Asheville’s “hot” neighborhoods — which include Montford, West Asheville, Kenilworth, Beaver Lake, Kimberly Avenue and several areas of South Asheville — have climbed significantly since 2013. The value of some types of commercial property, including hotels, also have risen sharply. As some property values have shot up, however, others have remained close to their 2013 levels.
Bringing all appraised values up to 100% of market value, Roberts said, would result in a fairer distribution of the tax burden.
Reappraising property is only the first step in the process, Roberts explained. Following a reappraisal, his department would notify property owners of their new value and provide a variety of opportunities for citizens to discuss and, if they wish, contest, the tax department’s decision.
Once the reappraisal is complete, county government, municipalities and fire districts will be presented with a revenue-neutral tax rate based on the new valuations. If the appraisals go up, the tax rate will go down. At that point, taxing authorities will set a tax rate based on revenue needs.
“It stings a little bit, if you live in one of the neighborhoods where they’ve gone up, but it’s fair,” commented Newman. “If property values in my neighborhood have risen more than in the county as a whole, then I and my neighbors should pay our fair share. What tax rate the county decides to set, to determine how much revenue to bring in, is a totally separate question.”
Commissioners take a stand
Jones commented, “This is not something that is going to happen this year. This would be starting the clock on the process. It would be prudent and professional for us to act now. We know that the letter is coming. If we don’t deal with it now, we’ll just be back here to deal with it when the letter comes, so I’m supportive of going forward.”
Chairman Gantt also supported moving up the date for reappraisal, saying “Property values are just one factor in this equation. If the new rate is lower, taxes may not go up. When I came on the board, the rate was 73 cents. When property values went up, we reduced the rate.”
While hotels are getting off easy, continued Gantt, some citizens are struggling to pay their taxes. The Commission’s vote in the summer of 2017 could help take some pressure off those property owners, he said.
Fryar expressed concern for older property owners who live in areas once considered affordable, such as West Asheville. “Somewhere in our budgets we have to figure out how to make things work. We have to look out for the people,” Fryar stated.
Newman said he didn’t disagree with Fryar’s point, but continued that he also worries that “properties owners and homeowners in rural areas and small towns are paying more than their fair share based on the increase in property values in popular areas.”
“I’m not comfortable with the timing of this,” added Belcher. “I think we should have more public input. I don’t have a problem if the state sends us a letter. Then we’ll do it.”
DeBruhl declined to support the measure. “Unfortunately, I think we’re in a unique position and I’m seeing the writing on wall, so I’m concerned about this and I actually cannot support this at this time,” she said.
With the final vote resulting in a tie along party lines, it seems likely that the Commission will consider the issue again in the near future when the full board is present.
Commission appointed Leah Wong Ashburn to the Tourism Development Authority,
Kermit Sprinkles was appointed to the Historic Resources Commission, and James Wilson and George Lycan were appointed to the County Board of Adjustment.
County Commission will meet to vote on a continued item from this meeting on March 22, immediately before its budget work session, which is not open to the public.
The next regular meeting of County Commission will be held at 4:30 p.m. on April 5 in Room 326 at 200 College St.
A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Buncombe County Tax Director Gary Roberts told Commissioners that the County had performed a tax reappraisal every four years since 1988.
The article should have reported that Roberts told Commissioners that the County had performed a tax reappraisal every four years since 1988 with the exception of 2010. Due to economic conditions during the recessionary period leading up to 2010 and the resulting instability in the real estate market, Roberts clarified on April 8, Commissioners voted to delay the 2010 reappraisal until 2013, the most recent reappraisal.
On April 5, Commissioners voted to advance the next reappraisal to January 2017. State law requires taxing authorities to perform reappraisals at least every eight years, except when the ratio of tax values to market values falls above or below thresholds established by the state.
The article has been updated.