Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Tax Man Cometh

And if thou livest in the city, he just mayeth be back.
By Roger McCredie

The good news is, there’ll be no increase in the county tax rate this year.

The bad news is, that will make little difference to most Buncombe taxpayers because the property revaluation that’s now in the works will increase most properties’ value and result in higher taxes for 2018 anyway.

Those were the tidings county tax officers Gary Roberts and Keith Miller brought to members of the Council of Independent Business Owners at their breakfast meeting last week.

Noting that the county’s last across-the-board property revaluation took place in 2013, County Tax Director Gary Roberts told the CIBO audience, “It’s up to the Board [county commissioners] as to when we should do reappraisals but I think it’s wise to do it about every four years and that seems to be the consensus.”

Roberts noted that the county tax rate remains unchanged at 60.40 cents per $100 of assessed property value (up from 52 cents in 2013).  But yes, he said, given the current bullish housing market and four years’ worth of inflation, most property owners will notice an increase – in some cases a substantial one – when they receive their fiscal year 2018 tax bills.  The new valuations are scheduled to be in the mail by January 31.

“Of course,” Roberts added, “the values we set are only as good as the data we collect.  And we want to talk about the appeal process, not that anybody would appeal.”

(Polite laughter)

And at that point Roberts handed off to County Real Estate Assistant, who elaborated.

“We’re in the process of gathering data from 2400 different neighborhoods – 90,000 properties – and that’s a huge undertaking,” Miller said by way of explaining that the county uses a “package” approach, which involves calculating average land and structure values in a given area and applying them throughout that area, adjusting for size and specific location.

“In a situation like that,” he said, “you’re always going to have some highs and you’re always going to have some lows.  We don’t often hear [appeals] from people who think we’ve valued them too low.”

(More polite laughter)

“So no,” Miller said, “we don’t always end up with the best possible information.  We need input.  That’s why we encourage property owners to talk to us. Call us or e-mail us, follow us on social media or come by our office so we can discuss it face to face.

“Of course,” he added, “there’s a possibility that according to what other information we get, the valuation could go up instead of down, so there’s that.”

(Not-as-hearty polite laughter)

Earlier this year Roberts told the Asheville Citizen-Times that the county tax office believes some Buncombe neighborhoods are only being taxed at about what they should be, based on market value.  He named several outlying communities, such as Montreat and Enka, as well as several in-town locations including Montford, Kimberly, Beaver Lake, parts of South Asheville and the River Arts District.   

Property owners inside Asheville’s city limits will thus be facing a double whammy in the near future.  The countywide revaluation follows hard on the heels of city voters’ election-day approval of the issue of $74 million worth of city general obligation bonds.

The three-bond package comprises $37 million earmarked for transportation, $25 million for affordable housing and $17 million for parks and recreation.  The city has a seven-year window in which to issue the bonds themselves.

Once all the bonds have been issued, the resulting tax on them would raise the city of Asheville’s per capita debt to $1,748, nearly double the 2016 per-person burden of $947.

That figure will, of course, be in addition to whatever each taxpayer’s new county tax bill turns out to be.

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