Residents say revaluation is driving natives out of county

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, March 9, 2017

Some property owners say their values increased 150 percent

COLUMBUS – Polk County Commissioners got an earful this week from property owners whose values rose dramatically during the recent property revaluation.

Commissioners met Monday, March 6 and heard from seven residents during citizen comments and others during the discussion, all saying their values increased significantly. Most of the speakers are from the Green Creek area, with some blaming the increases on Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC).

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Polk County is finishing up its property revaluation, which the state requires at least every eight years. Appraisers said this year’s revaluation ended with 65 percent of Polk County’s properties staying the same value or decreasing and 35 percent increasing in value.

Kenny Cochran said his property increased 43 percent and his sister’s increased 150 percent. Cochran said his sister’s property went from $80,000 to $200,000.

Cochran said he researched the commissioners’ values.

He said commissioner chair Tommy Melton’s increased 13.28 percent, commissioner Shane Bradley’s decreased 10 percent, commissioner Myron Yoder’s didn’t change and he couldn’t get any information on commissioner Ray Gasperson’s. Commissioner vice chair Jake Johnson doesn’t own property, Cochran said.

Cochran said it appears the county is raising taxes on natives.

“Right now if things aren’t changed I’ll vote against every one of y’all,” Cochran said. “Something has to be done.”

Cochran said if commissioner Melton’s value was raised like his sister’s was, his value would have gone from $88,400 to over $200,000.

Mark James said he lives on Floyd Blackwell Road and said he’s researched his neighbors’ properties. James said the county raised the building lot alone 20 percent and there are people in his neighborhood who are poor and they got a 20 percent increase just on their building lot. James said some land went from $4,000 an acre to $10,000 an acre and his overall change was a 41 percent increase. James said the increase for the county in seven years is 11.26 percent, which comes out to 1.6 percent per year on average. James said he feels like the county needs to reappraise the reappraisal.

Tom O’Connor said the tax evaluation is “past ridiculous.” He said his value increased by $130,000.

“It flabbergasts me that that can happen in Polk County,” O’Conner said.

He said the county is going to end up driving the hard working, blue-collar people out of this county.

“I’ll tell you there’s not one person in my family that gives a rip about a horse,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor also said there are four commissioners up there that are supposed to be conservatives and the people voted them in to be conservatives.

Melton said every citizen in Polk County has the right to appeal the values and if someone is denied that right, “I’m easy to find. Call me.”

Silvia Frazier said the value of her property according to the form she received is $188,000 but she is going to be charged taxes on the value of $788,000 because it’s comparable to her neighbor’s value.

“I’m glad they can live that wealthily but I cannot,” said Frazier. “I don’t think it’s fair to be charged four times as much because my neighbor lives better than I do.”

“I think it’s thievery,” said Frazier. “Everyone in my family that is also attached to the family land has had their taxes raised as well in the same manner.”

Frazier said her family members could not attend the meeting and asked commissioners to do something about this.

“I didn’t ask for this horse place to be built down the street from me and I certainly don’t want to pay for it.”

David Bowyer said he lives in Green Creek and unfortunately, he said, he lives in proximity of the new horse arena. He said one property increased 14 percent and another increased 373 percent.

“Is there any rhyme or reason for this,” Bowyer asked. “We don’t have means for this. It looks like we’re trying to be run off is what it looks like.”

Bowyer said he doesn’t know who the county hired for the reappraisal and he doesn’t know if they just threw darts at a dart board to determine the values.

“Yes, land has sold for over $20,000 an acre but it’s also sold for less than $1,000 an acre,” said Bowyer.

Bowyer also said, “we don’t have billions of dollars like our neighbors.”

Mary Dill said she and her husband purchased their farm on Moore Road in 1986 and her new value is about three times last year’s value.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Dill said. “I’m not selling it. I just have to work another 30 years to pay for the tax increase. That doesn’t seem fair.”

Dill said when TIEC was established residents were told it would be a huge benefit for the county but no one was told about tax increases.

“We don’t have the money,” Dill said.

Dill asked commissioners to protect the citizens. She said residents voted for commissioners because they were sure they would do the right thing during their tenure in office.

“Make the revaluations fair county-wide,” Dill said. “Help us, please.”

During Monday’s meeting, county tax administrator Melissa Bowlin and appraiser Brandon Highsmith gave a presentation and answered some questions following citizen comments.

Bowlin said the appraisal team hired for the revaluation has never been in this county and the board of equalization and review (board of E&R) has not been appointed yet but should be appointed the first meeting in April.

Bowlin said on the appeal process, every citizen has the right to appeal their property. The county is currently in the informal appeal process and once the county gets through that process, residents can appeal their values to the board of E&R. If residents aren’t satisfied with the board of E&R’s decision, they can then appeal to the property tax commission in Raleigh.

Bowlin also said commissioners recently changed property revaluations to every four years instead of every eight years so in four years the county should not have this kind of change.

“It keeps the impact down,” Bowlin said. “It also helps keep the fair market value at 100 percent.”

There are rules and regulations set up by North Carolina, Bowlin said, and Polk County doesn’t treat people unfairly and “we don’t take darts and throw them.”

She said the county will be advertising E&R board meeting dates and times at the end of this month and she can set up appeals as long as the board is still meeting.

There are five members of the E&R board with applications to be on the board due today by 5 p.m.

Bowlin also reviewed some programs to help reduce taxes, including the land use program for farmland and programs for the elderly, disabled or disabled veterans.

Bowlin said she encourages people who qualify to enter these programs and any time her office thinks someone may qualify, they advocate for it.

Polk County appraiser Brandon Highsmith said anyone with questions is welcome to come to his office Monday-Wednesday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and they can make an appointment for Thursday and Friday.

Highsmith said the number one thing appraisers look at is the neighborhood. He said the last revaluation was in 2009 and for the current revaluation, the county looked at sales in 2015 and 2016 to determine current values.

Highsmith reviewed a map of some 300 neighborhoods in the county and said TIEC is a neighborhood all on its own because of its special zoning.

Commissioner Bradley asked whether residents who received a letter of rejection from the informal appeal process could still appeal.

Bowlin said her office is still working through those letters and yes, residents can then appeal to the board of E&R.

Commissioner Gasperson said he thinks the important point is that anyone who has a concern can bring documentation with some getting an outside appraiser. He said commissioners are limited in what they can do.

“Even people that want refunds in the future we can only do for clerical errors,” Gasperson said. “It’s state statutes.”

Gasperson said he doesn’t want anyone to feel their property is being improperly valued. Gasperson said he also lives in Green Creek and it all has to do with comparables.

“It’s difficult,” Gasperson said. “I understand. But we, without a doubt, are seeing significant increases in the Green Creek area.”

Gasperson said commissioners understand where residents are on the subject and they are concerned.

“We’re pushing hard to keep the budget as revenue neutral as we can,” Gasperson said.

Commissioner Yoder said he feels residents’ pain.

“We have people running businesses working 12 hours a day and trying to make ends meet,” Yoder said. “That’s what I do. It’s all based on market value. It’s guided by a lot of state statutes.”

Yoder said what he can do for residents is make sure they have all the information, direct them to the right places and make sure people know about all the land exemptions available.

“Believe me, we want to do all we can for you,” Yoder said.