September 23, 2021

Buncombe considers reassessment committee for property tax value reforms

ASHEVILLE – The wide disparities in Buncombe County’s tax value changes for rich and poor neighborhoods are leading to the formation of a new committee to look at issues related to how the government rates homes.

The ad hoc reassessment committee would consist of seven members, including a racial equity representative and five community members, according to an Aug. 3 briefing to the Council of Commissioners by county tax assessor Keith Miller. The body would hold its first meeting in September and make recommendations in the spring.

While tasked with creating the committee, Miller championed disparities between places such as the Upscale Forest of Biltmore which saw an average 4% increase in tax value compared to 26% in the historically black community of ‘Asheville from Shiloh. Miller said the disparities reflect actual changes in the market.

Related:Tax increases are set to hit the historically Black Asheville neighborhood hard, east of Buncombe

But activists say they stem from modern valuation practices favoring wealthy landlords and historic racism.

The tax value of a house is used along with a property tax rate set by the local government to calculate an individual tax bill.

The problem came to a head with the county’s reassessment in 2021 which coincided with a boiling real estate market. The last reassessment took place in 2017. It also followed the Citizen Times report on the great disparity between traditionally white and black neighborhoods.

While there was no formal vote at the August 3 meeting, the Commissioners indicated that they wanted the committee formation process to move forward.

Following:Most expensive private sale in Buncombe is $ 7.7 million in Biltmore Forest

Board chairman Brownie Newman said it would take a closer look at activists’ claims and concerns.

“Is there something going on that is causing some smaller and more modest homes to be overvalued and higher-end homes to be undervalued? I think that’s the main concern that has been raised.” , Newman said.

Some commissioners said that whatever the outcome, the committee could help raise issues and build community confidence in the reassessment process.

“It’s like throughout this last one there wasn’t necessarily confidence in how it happened,” District 2 Commissioner Amanda Edwards said.

Miller said his office has always been transparent and staff follow national and state guidelines.

“I think there was a lot of mistrust that arose from other parts of this country,” he said, to which Edwards said: “I don’t disagree.”

Another outcome of the committee should be to help poorer homeowners understand their options, Newman said. This may include calling for a tax assessment.

The president said he believed the assessor’s office had tried to contact all residents, but some still found the system difficult.

“I think it’s probably fair to say that people with more financial means are probably more involved in the appeal process,” he said.

District 2 Commissioner Robert Pressley, the only Republican on the board, said he understood calls had dropped from 15,000 eight years ago to 5,000 in 2017.

“But now, with a committee like this, I think we’re reaching more people,” Pressley said.

Miller said he agreed that increased awareness would be good.

“I can assure you over the years that we have put in place many processes to reach all sectors of our community in the appeal process,” he said. “But there are people who still struggle with the process of themselves who step up and say, ‘Hey, take another look, will you? “

“So if there’s anything we can do to move forward to overcome this, I think that’s the right direction whether we have a committee or not.”

Deputy Commissioners Al Whitesides, the first black member of the council, said the committee could help push for statewide changes to property taxes. Currently, the state requires counties, cities, and other local governments to treat all homeowners the same, regardless of income, property value, or whether a house is a primary or secondary residence.

“A lot of what’s going on in this state with taxes that we have no control over locally,” Whitesides said. “We have to get it out, and I think it’s time for our Raleigh lawmakers to update our entire North Carolina tax picture.”

As a workaround, Buncombe, Asheville and Woodfin this year launched an unusual program to give back to low-income homeowners their tax increases in the form of grants.

As proposed, the committee would be appointed by the commissioners and would be composed of:

  • Two members of the Equalization and Revision Commission.
  • Five community members.
  • Three non-executive members.
  • A real estate professional (preferably residential).
  • An equity representative.

The committee would be made up of the assessor, the chief assessor, the county tax analyst and the county attorney.

Members would be selected in August and September with their first meeting in September. The organization would make recommendations to the board in the spring.

Joel Burgess has lived at WNC for over 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He has written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Help us support this type of journalism by subscribing to the Citizen Times.


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