On the agenda for the board’s June 17 meeting, the matter was simply labeled “Resolution Rescinding Resolution 06-08-06,” but what it meant was far more complex, as the commissioners decided to delay the county's next property tax revaluation to 2014.
The last revaluation was conducted in 2006 — at the height of the area's housing boom — and at that time, the board scheduled the next revaluation for 2010.
But since then the economy has declined, led in its fall by a flailing housing market.
So it was that Tax Collector Gary Roberts asked the board to delay the revaluation, stating that housing values have remained relatively flat in Buncombe County and that to do a revaluation now would hurt the taxpayer.
“With the markets changing as quickly as they are, this is not a good time to do a reappraisal,” Roberts told the board. “I don't like to come to you like this, but I never thought I'd see housing values change the way they have.”
He added that if a revaluation were done in 2010, the average homeowner would see their property values — and thus their taxes — go up 5 to 7 percent.
Though it may seen counterintuitive that property values have actually gone up from one of the flush years of the housing boom, Roberts said that values continued to rise during 2007 and part of 2008 and while they have declined with the downturn, are still higher than they were in 2006.
The current proposed county budget for the next fiscal year makes $5.9 million in cuts and keeps the current tax rate of 52.5 cents per $100 of assessed value the same. Roberts told Xpress that there was no particular type of homes — or particular area — where values had declined.
“Are there property values that are overvalued or undervalued today? Yes, we have appeals every day and if our citizens truly believe their values are incorrect, we'll be happy to sit down with them,” he said.
The board agreed with Roberts and voted 4-0 to delay the revaluation to 2014. Commissioner Holly Jones was on vacation.
“There's no question that if a citizen has a question you're open to discussing the situation,” Commissioner Carol Peterson said, emphasizing Roberts' recent award as “outstanding tax collector” by his colleagues across the state.
“The bottom line is that, in tough economic times, this is the better course of action,” Commissioner K. Ray Bailey said.
Chair David Gantt touted the step as a way to save taxpayers money in tough times.
“A lot of tax collectors wouldn't come in and make this request because it probably hurts us — we won't make as much money,” Gantt said. “But it's the right thing to do. People are hurting, people are in bad shape. This is the time that no one asked for and no one anticipated and I think this is a good way to handle it, it's a fair thing for people that are hurting.”
In other developments at the meeting:
• Buncombe County's Solid Waste Management department also came forward to discuss planned improvements and the need to increase the annual solid waste plan by $5 per year, to about $14.70 per month.
“We need this to break even, to service our debt and keep the county's good credit rating,” Waste Management Director Jerry Mears said. “Our expenditures have to meet our revenues. A lot of counties are much higher on the tipping fee (per ton) than we are. We're under a majority of counties across the state.”
County staff confirmed that such an increase would be necessary to continue servicing Waste Management's debt.
A presentation by waste engineer Mark Sanford touted increased recycling, a water system that extended the landfill's life by over a decade and a coming project to harness gas from the landfill for energy purposes.
• The board also heard a report from the administrators of the United Way's 211 phone line, which connects callers with a variety of social services and has seen a substantial increase.
“The face of the person who is asking for help is changing — these are people that haven't had to ask for help before,” 211 Director Rachael Nygaard told the board. “It's tough, people are struggling. Our call volume is up 12 percent. People are asking for help for the first time and they're in bigger crises, with more complex situations, [and] the length of the call and the number of needs they have are both up.”
She added that many people were requiring help with paying rent, power bills and basic utilities.
— David Forbes, staff writer
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