Monkey Business Report: Property valuations, property taxes, and transparency

monkeySomething I learned long ago:  politicians don’t like giving our money back.  Local politicians can claim that they’ve held the line on property tax rates.  (It chafes me, BIG TIME, to have to pay the government for the “privilege” of owning something I’ve purchased for myself with my hard-earned money.  But that’s another story.) Then, they monkey around with the value of your real property.  Hold the property tax rate at 50 cents on the dollar.  Run a property valuation that knocks everyone’s property value up 20 to 30 percent — say, from $100,000 to $130,000.  The politicians end up looking like fiscal conservatives and tightwads while they’re really bleeding more money out of your wallet. 

We posted earlier about hijinks surrounding a terribly screwed up property revaluation in Mecklenburg County that — in order to correct it — risked throwing the county into the red.  We’ve heard about some recent property tax developments in Haywood County — out in western North Carolina — that has taxpayers seeing red

There are several important issues playing out in the lawsuit between Haywood County and residents Debbie and Denny King. In what has now become quite a controversial tax case, the Kings are still fighting the county with regard to the 2011 revaluation of their property and therefore their 2011 property taxes.

The Kings, residents of the Beaverdam area in Canton, found their property tax rate for 2011 unusually high. Because the county had assessed their property at 130% of its actual worth, they took their case to the North Carolina Tax Commission in Raleigh for a reconsideration of their tax rate. The Tax Commission’s response was that the Kings “did present evidence tending to show that [the] county tax supervisor used an arbitrary method of valuation; and that the county’s assessments substantially exceeded true value money of the property.”

However, the Haywood County Board of Commissioners appealed the ruling of the NC Tax Commission to the NC Court of Appeals. Both The Mountaineer and The Smoky Mountain News have reported that the Court of Appeals sided with the county because the NC Tax Commission failed to produce enough evidence to support the change in valuation from $210,000 to $172,000. However, this is a misrepresentation of where the lawsuit rests at this time, since the appellate court merely asked for clarification before ruling. Denny King, in his public comment to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners on August 18, argued that “the North Carolina Court of Appeals has sent the case back to the Property Tax Commission to articulate its decision. This case is not settled.”

According to the Kings, they are not the only home owners who have suffered from this kind of upward revaluation of their property. In fact, Mr. King was told that there were “well over 1000 people that signed the petitions opposing the revaluation in 2011.” He said that “several homeowners in my neighborhood and other areas appealed their property to the County Board of Equalization.” However, the Board of Commissioners has denied this claim. According to The Mountaineer, the position of the board was that “the 2011 revaluation process had been one of the least contested revaluations they could remember,” because “only 3 percent of the property owners in the county appealed the values established through the mass appraisal process, a number exceedingly low compared to past revaluation years.”biggovt

Part of the problem here is the county’s system for analyzing property tax rates. Haywood County’swebsite states that for 2011 “the Haywood County real property appraisal staff began using neighborhood delineation as part of the revaluation process to help analyze sales data in individual neighborhoods. Over 940 neighborhoods were created for residential, commercial and industrial properties.” Now there are as many 1000 such neighborhoods, all given a valuation for tax rates in what Becky Johnson at the Smoky Mountain News has called an “imperfect science.”

Each neighborhood in Haywood County was given a market value in 2011 for determining tax rates. Denny King has stated that, “the reason I appealed was due to the neighborhood delineation market factor that increased my house value 30%.” This means his entire neighborhood was valued at 130% of its real market value, and taxed at that rate.

When the Kings first started making noise about this issue, the maps used in the process were pulled from the county web site.  Taxpayers who wanted to obtain a hard copy of the map affecting their property were required by county officials to pay $216 up-front.  MORE: 

[…]  Despite multiple requests to have them placed back online, according to the Haywood County Public Information Officer David Teague, there is no plan to do so. At the Board of Commissioner’s meeting as recently as August 18, tax payer Eddie Cabe gave a public comment where he repeated previous requests for the neighborhood delineation maps to be put back online. The Tax Administrator/Collector/Assessor David Francis responded to his request saying that no one ever used those maps, and they could just as easily use the FEMA flood maps that were available through the federal website. These tax maps were removed from the county’s website, according to both David Francis and David Teague, because there was just not enough space on the county server for all 1000 of the maps once the 2012 maps depicting the flood hazard areas were added to the county’s website.

Not enough server space.  The government can’t afford additional server space? MORE: 

 […]

Most important here however, is not the removal of the maps from the county’s website, but the restricted access to the maps even as copies. According to current county policy, not only are citizens now required to pay the $216 fee for a copy of a single map, which means they must pay again in order to make comparisons, but are also being asked to sign a form specifying the reason for obtaining a map, and indicating that the information cannot be shared without written consent of the county. This is in stark contrast with General Statute 132-1 (b) which states:

The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, “minimal cost” shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information. (1935, c. 265, s. 1; 1975, c. 787, s. 1; 1995, c. 388, s. 1.)

[…]

So, it costs Haywood County $216 per copy to reproduce these maps? (Perhaps they need to re-examine their choice of printers / copiers.)  And, unless you’ve bought property and built something on it, who among us has honestly seen property value increases in this economy? 

10 thoughts on “Monkey Business Report: Property valuations, property taxes, and transparency

  1. This would never happen in a Republican-run County. Oh wait…..!
    Haywood IS a Republican County.

    1. Haywood County is NOT A REPUBLICAN county. 4 of our county commissioners are Democrats and #5 is a RINO. Haywood County is known throughout the state as the most politically corrupt county in the state! Go figure!

  2. I’m sure it also chaps the Haywood County robber barons that Denny is on the ballot for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners.

  3. Mr. Toxhandler

    Haywood is run by Democrats, the Commissioners are 4 democrats and a RINO named Kevin Ensley
    In the Countys 236 year history it has never been run by anything resembling a conservative!
    That could change this year

  4. I went before the Haywood County Commissioners August 18, 2014 to address the mendacious article printed in The Mountaineer. The commissioners have a three minute rule so I could not address all the untruths in the article including the comment:

    “Only 3 percent of property owners in the county appealed the values established through the mass appraisal process, a number exceedingly low compared to past revaluation years.”

    Really?

    The June 2011 SMN article “Row over property values in Haywood still raging unabated” by Becky Johnson stated: “The number of informal appeals this reval were nearly identical to the one in 2006 “***”5,600 informal appeals compared to 5,500 last time.”
    “But formal appeals are up by 20% over 2006.” 1,800 compared to 1,500 appeals in 2006.

    Half the property owners did not receive a tax increase in 2011. This leads me to believe that those that received a tax increase appealed at a much greater percentage than in the past.

    I was at the commissioner and community meetings along with Eddie Cabe, Jonnie Cure and many others. This was not a quiet little reval with only a few disgruntled property owners. The outcries were loud and plentiful.

    One issue not addressed McKinney’s article is the following:
    In the appeal the county stated their evidence supported the County Board’s valuation of my home and requested the Court provide guidance to the Property Tax Commission as to the weight and sufficiency of their [the county] evidence. According to the county, the Court had done so in previous cases however, the Court declined the County’s request.

    I believe the Court was correct as the evidence does not add up to a market factor of 130%.

    In 2011 approximately half of the Haywood County property owners had an increase in property values during one of the greatest housing depressions since the Great Depression. Many with lower valued homes received substantial tax increases that are unjustified based on analysis of county sales data. I will continue the fight to correct this situation. Laws need to be changed on the state level to see this never happens again.

    Here is the video showing my 3 minute comment at the Haywood County Commissioners Meeting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JnV8S8GShw

  5. FYI, I did eventually get the records I requested.

    I went to the county mapping department on March 10 and made a request for public records. Following is an email dialogue that took place later.

    Debbie King

    Subject: Neighborhood home sales
    Date: 3/21/14 12:08:49 PM
    From: king
    To: lrgs@haywoodnc.net
    Cc: king

    Ms. Stephanie Parkins,

    March 10, 2014 I requested:

    All home sales, valid and invalid from January 1, 2011 to February 28, 2014, in the following neighborhoods:

    15R055 Westwood & Georgia
    15R052 Old Hazelwood School Area
    14R061 Laurel Ridge Dr

    Do you know when my requested information will be available?

    I request the neighborhood maps be placed back online. This is information I could have easily retrieved had the neighborhood maps been online as they were previously.

    Thank you,
    Debbie King

    On Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 12:29 PM, Stephanie Parkins wrote:

    Ms. King,

    You did request the following information but failed to sign the form requesting the information. Signing the form does two things. The first is that once you receive the data that you will not sell the data and secondly, it is stating that you are aware there is a fee and will pay the fee. Once I receive a signed request form, I will be able to process the request.

    I have reviewed this situation with the county attorney and he stated that the request for signing the form is not an unreasonable request.

    Stephanie S. Parkins
    Land Records/GIS Director
    Haywood County
    828-452-6644

    Pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 132, Public Records, this electronic mail message and any attachments hereto, as well as any electronic mail message(s) sent in response to it, may be considered public record and as such are subject to request and review by anyone at any time.

    From: kingsXXXXXXXXXX
    Sent: Friday, March 21, 2014 1:44 PM
    To: Stephanie Parkins
    XXXXX
    Subject: RE: Neighborhood home sales

    Ms. Parkins,

    I respectfully disagree with the county attorney. I did not sign your request form since it would mean the following:

    “This information is the property of Haywood County and is to be used only for the purpose indicated on this request form. Any other use or transmission of this information without the expressed written consent of Haywood County is hereby prohibited. Your signature below will serve as your understanding and agreement with the conditions identified above***”

    It is my understanding I don’t need to disclose the purpose or motive for the request.

    My email address was on the request form, why didn’t you contact me regarding a signature?

    I do not consent to disclose the purpose or motive for my request, and I will not seek written consent from Haywood County to use the information. I will pay the fees associated with my request and I will not seek a refund. Will this suffice for my records request? If not, please let me know as soon as possible.

    § 132-1. “Public records” defined.

    (a) “Public record” or “public records” shall mean all documents, papers, letters, map, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.

    (b) The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, “minimal cost” shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information.

    § 132-6. Inspection and examination of records.

    (a) Every custodian of public records shall permit any record in the custodian’s custody to be inspected and examined at reasonable times and under reasonable supervision by any person, and shall, as promptly as possible, furnish copies thereof upon payment of any fees as may be prescribed by law. As used herein, “custodian” does not mean an agency that holds the public records of other agencies solely for purposes of storage or safekeeping or solely to provide data processing.

    (b) No person requesting to inspect and examine public records, or to obtain copies thereof, shall be required to disclose the purpose or motive for the request.

    (c) No request to inspect, examine, or obtain copies of public records shall be denied on the grounds that confidential information is commingled with the requested nonconfidential information. If it is necessary to separate confidential from nonconfidential information in order to permit the inspection, examination, or copying of the public records, the public agency shall bear the cost of such separation on the following schedule**

    Debbie King

    From: Stephanie Parkins
    Sent: Friday, March 21, 2014 2:58 PM
    To: ‘kingsXXXXX
    Subject: RE: Neighborhood home sales

    Ms.

    By your email below you have stated that you will pay the fee for the request. If you understand and agree to not sell the data and send me a confirmation as such, then I will process your request.

    Stephanie S. Parkins
    Land Records/GIS Director
    Haywood County
    828-452-6644

    Pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 132, Public Records, this electronic mail message and any attachments hereto, as well as any electronic mail message(s) sent in response to it, may be considered public record and as such are subject to request and review by anyone at any time.

    From: Stephanie Parkins
    Sent: Friday, March 21, 2014 3:47 PM
    To: Stephanie Parkins
    Subject: RE: Neighborhood home sales

    Ms. King,

    After I was informed that I cannot enforce the resale of the data and you have previously committed to pay, I will process your request of all home sales, valid and invalid, from 1/1/2011 to February 28, 2014 for the neighborhoods 15R055 Westood & Georgia, 15R052 Old Hazelwood School Area and 14R061 Laurel Ridge Dr. As we discussed on March 10, 2014 I will provide the PIN for each record and you will be able to pull the property record card online via the PIN. Once I gather this data from GIS I will email you the data along with an invoice. My goal is to have this data to you early next week. The cost of the request will be less than $25.00.

    Stephanie S. Parkins
    Land Records/GIS Director
    Haywood County
    828-452-6644

    Pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 132, Public Records, this electronic mail message and any attachments hereto, as well as any electronic mail message(s) sent in response to it, may be considered public record and as such are subject to request and review by anyone at any time.

  6. To clarify, I paid the requested fee and received the sales in three, neighborhoods. Four if you count a neighborhood with no sales.

    The maps have NOT been placed back online. In my opinion the fee is very high for the maps with sales.

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