A public hearing about Alamance County’s next property tax revaluation ended with the county’s governing board seemingly recommitted to the idea of holding this state-mandated mass reassessment next year.
The board of commissioners had originally scheduled the reval for 2023 well over a year ago after the county’s tax administrator Jeremy Akins raised some concerns about the county’s traditional eight-year revaluation cycle.
In April of 2021, Akins approached the commissioners to address the run-away growth in local real estate prices that had occurred since the county’s previous revaluation in 2017. He noted that the increasing discrepancy between tax values and sale prices had already prompted the state to mandate that the county’s next reval up to 2024 – a year earlier than its eight-year timetable dictated.
To make matters worse, Akins revealed that the state had also decided to dock the county’s tax receipts from public utilities, which had just been reassessed by the state at levels comparatively higher than the county’s outdated figures for other taxable property.
Akins advised the commissioners to move up the next reval to 2023 in order to staunch the loss of roughly $400,000 a year that the county was no longer getting from public utility companies. The commissioners unanimously approved this suggestion – along with another recommendation to move toward a four-year revaluation cycle after the next reval takes place.
Although the commissioners had initially embraced Akins’ accelerated revaluation schedule, a few of them had recently begun to second-guess their decision as the local housing market showed signs of heading into a slump. Last month, some of the commissioners even broached the possibility of pushing the reval back out to 2024 so that tax values wouldn’t be locked in at their current peak levels before the anticipated downturn sets in.
These misgivings were more or less laid to rest on Monday when the commissioners held a public hearing about the so-called “schedule of values” that the tax office has developed as a price guide for the forthcoming reval.
Although the commissioners took no formal action after the hearing, they generally appeared comfortable with the tax administrator’s plan to hold the revaluation in 2023. This timetable was, likewise, acceptable to both of the residents who weighed in during the hearing.
Akins’ schedule went over especially well with Henry Vines, a one-time candidate for the board of commissioners, who currently serves on the county’s board of equalization and review, which is responsible for hearing appeals from taxpayers about their assessed property values. Vines urged the commissioners to proceed with the revaluation as planned in order to retain the $400,000 a year that the county was otherwise losing from public utilities.
“Commissioners, to me it’s a no brainer,” Vines went on to declare. “The reval needs to be done…We’ve already lost [$800,000] in revenue [based on projections from 2021] that’s coming from utilities. If we don’t do something about it this year, we’re going to lose another $400,000.”
The tax administrator’s advice proved equally popular with Colin Cannell of Mebane, who urged the commissioners not to give in to the fears they may have about a forthcoming dip in the real estate market.
“I was concerned that some of you seem to be considering delaying the revaluation because of the threat of recession,” Cannell recalled. “But the harm that might be caused by proceeding with the revaluation this year is really insignificant compared to the harm that can and is being caused by continuing with the 2017 valuations.”
Cannell went on to observe that houses built since 2017 are already being assessed at sums closer to their current market values, and he judged it unfair to local municipalities to force them to make financial decisions based on the county’s obsolete tax values.
In the meantime, some of the commissioners were unable to shake off the gripes that they’ve heard from area residents, who believe that their tax bills will inevitably go up after the revaluation.
In response to this oft-heard complaint, commissioner Pam Thompson asked Akins to explain the concept of revenue neutrality, which has historically compelled the commissioners to adjust the property tax rate in order to eliminate the financial bump that the county would otherwise receive from the reval.
Akins noted that state law already obligates the commissioners to disclose the revenue neutral, or break even, rate that would be necessary to wipe out the county’s potential gain from a reval. He went on to argue that, if the commissioners go on to adopt this rate, it would mean no net increase in taxes for the county’s average property taxpayer.
“To be clear, a lot of citizens will have changes in their bills, but the average doesn’t change,” Akins proceeded to elaborate. “The fact that we’re bringing it up to current market means that the areas with the most growth will get a larger bill and those areas with less growth will get a smaller bill. But if you get down to the bottom-line number, it’s flat – flat as a pancake.
“Our tax rates are potentially neutral if this board sets revenue neutral [tax rates],” he continued. “What is not neutral is the $400,000 a year that we’re not receiving from public utilities.”
Akins went on to remind the commissioners that, by voting to accept the proposed schedule of values, they would not only be clearing the way for the reval to take place in 2023 but avoiding a continued hemorrhaging of funds from public utilities. He also acknowledged that state law requires them to wait another two weeks before they can formally vote on the schedule at their next meeting on November 21.
But the imperative to delay this decision didn’t prevent commissioner Bill Lashley from voicing his thoughts on the matter immediately after the public hearing on Monday.
Lashley, who took part in that morning’s proceedings remotely, conceded that he had raised quite a few questions about the impending reval during the board’s previous meeting.
“[But] I never had any intention of pushing it back…because of the $400,000,” he added. “I just wanted the public to realize that there are options, and we should look at them, and if they don’t fit, we move on.”