For nearly two hours Tuesday night, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners did a postmortem on the flawed 2011 property tax revaluation, ending with a vow to never repeat the nightmare that left homeowners shocked and angered. But they simultaneously praised the county staff whose work some commissioners felt was vindicated by a new consultant’s report.
The consultant, Josh Myers, told commissioners his study of the county’s original 2011 values and a revaluation review by Pearson Appraisal Services showed statistical differences that were “not practically meaningful.”
“The changes brought about by the Pearson 2011 values did not have a significant” effect on overall valuation accuracy, Myers said.
“This, in my opinion, is vindication of the county staff,” said Commissioner George Dunlap, a Democrat.
Republican Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said, however, that many property owners wanted the 2011 revaluation redone “because they didn’t feel that it was equitable, they didn’t feel that it was accurate and that it was fair across the board.
“If that meant that their refund was $10, then their refund was $10. If that means their refund was $1,000, then their refund was $1,000. They wanted it to be equitable and fair across the entire county.”
Said Dunlap: “What it suggests to me is exactly what happened. There were a few people who listened to people in the community who were upset and, at their whim, caused the county to have to incur all of this cost for something that really devalued the property in Mecklenburg County because some people didn’t want to pay for the property they owned.”
The revaluation resulted in sweeping protests from property owners over their tax bills and spurred Pearson’s independent study of the original 2011 revaluations.
Most of the outcry was raised by homeowners, in large part because the vast majority of the county’s tax parcels were zoned for residential use.
The county has paid $99.9 million in refunds but that has been offset by revenue from properties discovered to be undervalued, county officials said. The net cost to the county has been about $74 million, the officials said. The estimate value of all county property in 2011 is around $95 billion, meaning the net adjustments are equal to about 0.08 percent of the total value.
Following the 2011 revaluation, and the resulting 40,000 formal appeals, state law mandated a complete revaluation review.
In its review, Pearson recalculated values for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 tax years. Some values changed because of property improvements, county officials said.
In April 2014, the county hired Josh Myers Valuation Services to conduct an independent statistical analysis of the 2011 revaluation and the Pearson revaluation review, which found widespread errors.
The goal for Myers was to review the quality of the appraisals and to gain insight into the degree to which Pearson provided value to the county.
Wilson-based Pearson was paid $7 million to redo the property tax revaluation, county officials said.
Myers said the Pearson 2011 values met all International Association of Assessing Officers technical standards.
Another key finding, Myers said, was the changes made during the 2011 appeals period tended to be in vacant land and commercial properties.
The changes made by Pearson tended to be in residential properties, Myers said. Both sets of changes tended to be reductions, he said.
Many more properties were changed by Pearson than during the 2011 appeals period but the changes tended to be smaller, Myers said.
Appraisers had a hard time judging values after commercial sales dropped between 70-80 percent in the three recession-impacted years prior to 2011, Tax Assessor Ken Joyner has said.
The next valuation, to be conducted starting in 2017, should be on better footing, in part because commercial real estate transactions have picked up, Joyner said. That will provide more data from which to make comparisons, he said.
Revaluations must be done at least every eight years, according to state law.
Commissioners said Myers’ report offered a turning point for the governing body.
“There’s no question that with the focus on it on and on the process that…we will make incredible process improvements,” said Commissioner Dumont Clarke, a Democrat.
“I hope our people will have a better trusting level for us now,” said Commissioner Vilma Leake, also a Democrat.
“I’m sitting here again, reliving what transpired and the struggle we had sitting up here trying to get through a meeting because it was awful and it hurt because we could not do what we’re doing tonight.”