The widespread discontent with Alamance County’s latest property tax revaluation has provided one member of the county’s board of commissioners with an irresistible rallying cry ahead of a potential reelection campaign in 2024.
For the past several months, commissioner Pam Thompson has vocally objected to a decision that a majority of her fellow commissioners made last November to press ahead with this state-mandated reassessment of tax values in January – some two years ahead of the county’s traditional eight-year cycle for revaluations.
Yet, as well as this message may resonate on the campaign trail, Thompson insists that her stance on the revaluation isn’t a calculated ploy to win votes in next year’s election, when her seat will be one of three up for grabs on the county’s five-member governing board.
“I don’t even know if I’m going to run in 2024,” the first-term commissioner said in an interview earlier this week. “I have a sick mother and I have other people with health issues and that’s my priority. So, don’t think I’m doing this to get reelected. I’m always going to stand up for what I think is right.”
Thompson acknowledges that her understanding of what’s right has changed quite a bit with regard to the recent revaluation. In fact, the former school board member admits that she initially voted with the rest of the board to move up the date of the county’s next reval from 2025 to 2023.
On May 3, 2021, the board of commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution in support of this two year shift as a prelude to a more permanent change from an eight-year to a four-year cycle for the county’s revaluations.
The board, which Thompson had joined just six months before, agreed to adopt the new schedule at the behest of Alamance County’s tax administrator Jeremy Akins, who encouraged this move due to the growing divide between real estate sale prices and the assessed tax values that the county’s tax office had last set in 2017.
At the time, Akins told the commissioners that an unprecedented boom in the real estate market had sent sale prices soaring far beyond the values that his office still had on the books. Akins added that this growing disconnect had already prompted the state to order the county to conduct its next reval at least one year ahead of its original date in 2025. He went on to propose a two year advance in the schedule in order to recoup roughly $400,000 in property tax proceeds from utility companies that the state had also withheld due to the widening gap between sale prices and tax values.
The board’s vote in May of 2021 was merely one of several decisions that the commissioners would make before Akins and his colleagues implemented the revaluation’s results in January of this year.
In October of 2022, the board unanimously agreed to proceed with the hastened revaluation in spite of some misgivings that the local real estate market could take a nose dive in the New Year. Thompson joined the rest of the commissioners in that decision. She also went with the flow when the commissioners gave the county’s tax administrator an informal nod to proceed with his previously approved timetable after a rather poorly-attended public hearing on November 7.
Although Thompson didn’t object to the forthcoming reval at the juncture, she did echo concerns that other board members had been raising about the large increases in value that, even then, appeared to be in the offing. In response to these misgivings, Akins assured the board that an increase in tax values wouldn’t mean higher tax bill for the average taxpayer as long as the commissioners implement a “revenue neutral,” or break even, tax rate in the county’s next annual budget.
On November 21, 2022, the commissioners held one final vote on reval – in this case, approving a proposed “schedule of values” that served as the tax office’s equivalent of a pricing guide for the upcoming reassessment. This time, Thompson finally broke ranks with her fellow commissioners and cast the lone vote of dissent. Yet, she was hard pressed at the time to explain precisely why she refused to support the proposed schedule of values.
“Just because I don’t like it,” she declared when one of her fellow commissioners asked why she was voting against the document, “and I have a right not to like it.”
In retrospect, Thompson has pointed to high rates of inflation to justify her last-minute decision to oppose the revaluation.
“The gas prices are high, the food prices are high, and the housing prices are high…So, when it came down to it, I voted ‘no,’” the commissioner told The Alamance News on Monday. “I just don’t want to put another burden on people who already have so much on their plates.”
Thompson has only been emboldened in her continued dissent since the county’s new tax values went into effect in the beginning of January. Akins would later inform the commissioners that the overall worth of the county’s tax base had jumped nearly 80 percent, thanks largely to the results of the revaluation. In the meantime, many property owners have witnessed even higher increases in their own, individual tax values, spurring a rash of appeals that are presently being sorted out by the county’s board of equalization and review.
In the midst of this clamor, most of the county commissioners have been preaching the gospel of revenue neutrality to dispel any fears that their constituents have about an impending spike in their tax bills. Thompson, for her part, has expressed serious doubts that a revenue neutral tax rate will wipe out the entirety of the county’s gains from the new tax values. In the meantime, she has continued to second guess the decision by her fellow commissioners to move ahead with the revaluation given the current state of the local economy.
Thompson’s objections to this year’s mass reassessment seem to have been gathering more steam as the county edges closer to its next race for board of commissioners in 2024. That fall, area voters will have a chance to reallocate three commissioners’ seats that are presently occupied by Thompson, commissioner Bill Lashley; and John Paisley, Jr., who currently serves as the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners.
Although her opposition to the reval has certainly differentiated her from her fellow incumbents, Thompson insists that her stance has nothing to do with her prospective bid for another term on the board. In fact, Thompson notes that she also objected to two property tax decreases that a majority of the board pushed through in 2021 and 2022 – moves that, while politically popular, had struck her as fiscally imprudent given the large number of expenditures that the county has recently incurred.
“I talked to a number of people who said that we needed that money when the bottom dropped,” she went on to elaborate. “So, I wanted to keep the tax rate the same.
“I didn’t want to lower the tax rate just to win an election,” she added, “and I didn’t vote against the revaluation just to win votes.”