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Senate ratifies bill to up size of Board of Equalization and Review

In a move expected to make the appeals process quicker for Mecklenburg County property owners contesting their 2011 revaluations, the General Assembly today OK’d a bill to increase the number of members on the county’s Board of Equalization and Review.

With the ratification this morning of Senate Bill 55, the board of equalization is expected to grow from nine to 15 members as the county gears up for an expected 40,000 or so appeals from residential and commercial property owners.

“As we go through our first revaluation in eight years, this legislation should have a noticeable effect on how quickly we can hear appeals,” Brian Francis, an assistant to the county manager, said.

Residential property owners have until March 10 to file an informal appeal with the assessor’s office. Commercial property owners have not received their revaluation notices yet, but those are expected to be in the mail around March 14, county revaluation manager Chuck Hicks said.

The assessor’s office evaluates the informal appeals and then decides whether to change a property’s value. A second notice is then sent to the owner, who has 15 days to make a formal appeal to the board of equalization, which Hicks said will convene between the first Monday in April and the first Monday in May. No appeals for the current tax year will be added to the board’s agenda past July 1, he said.

As of Thursday, about 10,000 residential revaluation appeals had been filed since the notices were issued Feb. 7, Hicks said, adding that that amount is above normal.

“If the trend continues through March 10 we’ll probably have somewhere in the neighborhood of about 25,000 residential appeals,” which is what the county expected given the state of the economy and the fact that there hasn’t been a revaluation since 2003, he said.

With so many appeals expected for this year’s revaluation, some see a larger board of equalization as vital to handling the workload the board faces.

“From a practical standpoint, having the possibility of a larger board on a temporary basis would help us expedite the processing of the appeals” said Assistant Assessor Eric Anderson. “It’s just one of those things that’s kind of self-evident: If you have a larger group of people to subdivide the work, you can get through the work in a more rapid fashion.”

The bill does two important things, Francis said. First, it allows the board of equalization to be larger than the nine members it had been restricted to by prior legislation. Second, it allows members of subpanels to float from one panel to the next; under the old legislation, the three subpanels could not exchange members.

Before the board can increase in size, the Board of County Commissions has to adopt a resolution to create the new board, Francis said.

The commissioners are expected to take up the resolution Tuesday.

The passage of the bill, which does not require the signature of Gov. Beverly Perdue, is a victory for the county’s assessor, Garrett Alexander, who Francis said pushed for the changes in the board of equalization.

“This one started with the assessor’s office,” Francis said.

The bill’s passage came less than a month after the General Assembly convened Jan. 26, Francis pointed out, marveling at the speed.

While Francis said he doesn’t know how much having a large board of equalization will speed up the appeals process — “it’s hard for me to quantify” — at the most basic level it will increase the number of panels hearing appeals from three to five, he said.

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