Revaluation necessary for tax-paying fairness

The Robeson County Tax Office recently mailed more than 74,000 notices to local residents advising them of the value of their homes and businesses, which will be used to determine the county’s tax rate for the next fiscal year and how much each owner is expected to pay.

Let’s assume that the Tax Office has assigned a value that is acceptable to the property owner in 90 percent of those instances cases. That means about 7,400 property owners have the option to appeal.

Actually, four opportunities to appeal.

Revaluation has been a prickly issue in Robeson County, but never more so than in 1995 and 1996, when irresponsible reporting — combined with a very flawed revaluation — stirred the public in what became a regrettable confrontation with county administrators and commissioners.

The two revaluations since have had issues, but certainly didn’t provoke the ugliness of the mid-1990s.

We are sure that county officials, when mailing out the notices last week, held their breath with the hope that this one would be uneventful. As part of that effort, the county for the 2018 revaluation elected to do the work itself, not farm it out, and it was done by nine appraisers.

Those appraisers fanned out across the county, essentially doing drivebys and using real-estate sales to determine values.

When all the values were plugged in and totaled, it added up to about $6.29 billion, a modest increase over 2010 of about .075 percent. But it could have been worse. Our northern neighbors, Cumberland County, last year actually saw a decrease in residential values that forced a tax increase from 74 to 79.9 cents for every $100 of property.

That $6.29 billion figure, should it endure, would generate about $48 million in tax revenue if the commissioners elect to keep the tax rate at 77 cents for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. But the $6.29 billion is just a parking spot, and will come down as appeals are heard and adjustments are made. No one will appeal because they believe the value that has been assigned is too low.

We know there were those last week who read their notices and suffered some sticker shock. For them, there is an appeal process that includes as many as four steps, beginning locally and culminating with the option of appealing to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The process was included in a page 1A story that was published in Saturday’s The Robesonian, and it is also detailed in a three-minute video that can be found on the county’s website. If confusion continues, call the Tax Office at 910-671-3060 and the process can be explained.

We know that the tendency is to believe the worst, and conclude the county is trying to rob you of tax dollars through the revaluation process, but a thoughtful analysis should lead to a different conclusion.

Remember, the county has tax authority, and if additional revenue is needed, then all that is required is a tax increase. A single penny adds about $600,000 to the county’s General Fund. There really isn’t any reason for sleight of hand.

Revaluation is required by the state at least once every eight years, and the intent is to keep property values in line with each other, so that everyone pays their fair share — and not a dollar more or a penny less.

But it is an imperfect process, and the notices that have been sent are just an important step in getting the values correct. The appeals process, when appropriate, is the next step.