Friday, July 12, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Why did tax office hire out-of-house firm to help with this year’s revaluation?

QUESTION: Why did the county’s tax office retain a firm called Vincent Valuations to help with the mass revaluation that it implemented this year? What was it that endeared this particular company to the tax office, and what services has it performed for the county?

ANSWER: In 2009, the head of Alamance County’s tax office was pressured to give up her post when it emerged that she had been moonlighting for the contractor that she had retained to handle the county’s property tax revaluation earlier that year.

Eight years later, the county’s current tax administrator Jeremy Akins took a modicum of pride in fact that he had been able to complete the county’s next mass reassessment using only the county’s own in-house appraisers.

But when the local real estate market went into overdrive a few years ago, Akins acknowledged, with some chagrin, that he wouldn’t be able to pull off another revaluation without some external support.

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“The first thing I realized is that we needed help with commercial appraisals,” the county’s tax administrator recalled in an interview last week. “The longtime commercial appraiser we had for the 2017 reval had retired. We also needed someone to help write the schedule of values [which effectively serves as a price guide for the revaluation]. So, we bid it out, and we received three bids. One was from Vincent Valuations.”

Akins conceded that he wasn’t intimately familiar with any of the companies that had competed for the county’s business. To better acquaint himself with these firms, he had each of them send some information he could then use to form an unvarnished opinion of their respective virtues and drawbacks.

“I had asked all of the bidders not only for references but for the names of all of the counties they had worked for in the past five years,” he said. “When I called around for the other two bidders, it was a mixed bag. But for Vincent, it was all positive. I got no negative and no mixed [reviews].”

As it turned out, Vincent was not only uniformly praised by its clients, it had also submitted the lowest bid of the county’s three would-be contractors. So, in the summer of 2021, Akins asked the county’s board of commissioners to offer Vincent a contract with a maximum cumulative fee of $240,000.

Six months later, as work on the reval was thrumming along, the commissioners decided to advance the revaluation’s implementation date from March to January of 2023 to give them a jump on their preparations for that year’s annual budget. To attain this new deadline, Akins asked to the commissioners to extend Vincent’s contract to provide some last-minute appraisal services. He also requested the company’s help with the appeals process that commenced shortly after the revals results were dispatched to area property owners in the middle of January.

Akins said that, since the revaluation’s results went out to area property owners in January, his office has continued to lean on Vincent’s expertise to deal with the revaluation appeals that have come in from the public.

Akins said that this expansion of Vincent’s contract has increased the overall cost of the company’s services from a maximum of $250,000 to $426,000. He added, the company has, so far, billed the county a total of $407,506.25, although the ongoing appeals process will inevitably drive up this sum.

Akins insists that Vincent’s services during the ongoing appeals process has been well worth the added expense to the company’s contract. Nor is he the only one who has found the firm’s input invaluable as the county continues to wrest with these challenges from property owners.

Among Vincent’s other supporters is Mark Danieley, a member of the county’s board of equalization and review, which has been hearing revaluation appeals that the tax office wasn’t able to settle internally. Danieley told The Alamance News that the company has effectively taken charge of the county’s case as each of these challenges comes before him and his fellow board members.

“They’ve been doing a really good job,” Danieley said in an interview. “The comps – the comparisons between properties – that they’re giving us are quite good.”

Vincent has also received high marks from the board’s chairman Frank Bell, who had also served in its ranks in 2009 during the aftermath of that year’s much-maligned mass reassessment. Bell believes that Vincent’s alacrity with comparative sales data has made the current appeals process much less objectionable to property owners than it was 14 years earlier.

“These folks from Vincent are not blowing smoke,” he added. “The word’s out that these people know what they’re doing, and that people are being treated fairly…and I’m very grateful that this company is treating everybody fairly because if we make an error, we need to correct it.”


THE PUBLIC ASKS: Have a question about a matter of public record? Call The Alamance News at (336) 228-7851; write to the newspaper at P.O. Box 431, Graham, NC 27253; or e-mail alamancenews@mail.com.

If it’s a topic in the public domain — a matter of public record, including issues of government, courts, etc. — we’ll try to find the answer and print it in ‘The Public Asks’ column. (Please furnish as much complete and specific information as possible.)

Note: Issues regarding businesses — including salaries, policies, and practices — are usually not matters of public record, unless they are the subject of governmental or regulatory action, a court suit, or law enforcement activity.

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