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Tax value appeal traffic light so far

The reaction to new property tax values countywide last week was a watched pot. Not boiling — at least not yet.

On Friday afternoon, a day after most homeowners and businesses received their new tax value in the mail, the ground floor tax office at the Grove Street Courthouse was as quiet as any other day. There was only one customer, a resident paying last year’s taxes.
“We have had people come in but I can’t even say that it’s been steady,” said Tax Assessor Darlene Burgess. “We’ve had some phone calls. A lot of people seem to be inquiring about the elder and disabled exemptions. We’re happy to provide that information to them.”
Some taxpayers entitled to a break through three tax relief programs have asked about why the reduction is not on the notice of assessed value.
“On the evaluation notices, those amounts are not on there because those amounts are not determined at this point,” she said.
The tax relief programs are available for residents 65 or older and permanently disabled residents earning $30,200 a year or less and for disabled veterans. The tax relief reduces the assessed taxable value of the home by $25,000 or 50 percent, whichever is greater.
“They’re just asking to make sure it’s going to be there,” Burgess said of the callers who have already qualified for the tax relief. (New applicants have until June 1 to apply.)
The notice of assessed value also contains a form the taxpayer can use to appeal the new value. “Documentation to support your opinion of value is essential,” the tax office says. The tax office says it will take two to four weeks to process informal appeals. The informal appeal opportunity ends April 15, when the Board of Equalization and Review convenes. Taxpayers can appeal the new value at the Board of E&R any time before May 15.
“They can walk into the Board of Equalization and Review and say I want to appeal my value and that is a timely filed appeal that we will hear,” Burgess said.
Taxpayers won’t be able to calculate what they’ll actually owe in property taxes because the Board of Commissioners won’t set the tax rate until later this spring, likely after the Board of E&R appeals are over. Reasons that are not grounds for an adjustment include the percentage change from the previous value, actual construction cost, the amount of taxes due, financial ability to pay taxes, insurance value or liquidation or salvage value, the tax office says.
Burgess makes no promises to taxpayers on what the tax rate will be.
“I don’t want to mislead people by saying, ‘The rate’s going to go down,’ because that’s not my decision,” she said. “That’s our board’s decision. They are obligated to publish a revenue neutral rate but they’re not obligated to adopt that rate.”
The Board of Commissioners is still working to develop the expense side of the budget for 2019-20 and, at least in a rough framework, forecast spending for the next four years, including whatever debt payments the county forecasts for capital projects like new schools. The board usually sets the tax rate in June, when it adopts the budget.
“The taxpayers need to look at their value,” Burgess said. “If they think that it’s fair they don’t have to do anything. If they look at their value and they disagree with it, then they need to go through the appeal process.”
The tax office is still summarizing the information and calculating the overall taxable value to present to the Board of Commissioners at its regular mid-month meeting this week.
“Wednesday that information will be disclosed and it will include the county, as well as each municipality and each fire district,” she said.
“We have tried to take the taxpayers’ into consideration,” she said. “I think that’s important because we work for the taxpayers.”
Burgess pledged that if the flow of appeals turns from a trickle into tidal wave, the tax office has a structure in place to respond.
“We’re prepared for whatever comes through the door,” she said.

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Property owners may file an informal appeal with the assessor through April 12. The Board of Equalization & Review convenes April 15 to hear appeals and adjourns May 15. Appeals from the Board of E&R are heard by the North Carolina Property Tax Commission. click here for the Lightning's Q&A on the 2019 reppraisal.