Something Is Clearly Wrong With the Property Tax Appraisal System

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North Carolina isn’t the only state facing this challenge of a potentially flawed and unjust property tax system. Last year, Burlington, Vermont, completed its first city-wide property value reappraisal since 2005. 

The property tax assessment resolution states, “this reappraisal resulted in taxes for residential properties increasing as a share of the 4 city’s property tax collections by over $10 million, which is an increase of almost 2% to 80.6% of the total property taxes generated.” 

The Vermont board recognized within their resolution that this significant increase in property value placed a heavy burden on the community by increasing living expenses, with some experiencing the loss of their home as a result. Right from the beginning of the evaluation process, the general citizen concern was heard and recognized. 

Contrary to North Carolina’s resolution, Vermont’s resolution states that they understand the system is flawed and causing significant expense challenges to residents. They seem to believe that the issue isn’t due to a collective misunderstanding of the system, but rather, a problem with the system itself. Throughout their resolution document, they detail faults in the system that may be why the process is lacking in efficiency and accuracy. They note, “in press reports and constituent grievances, homeowners have raised serious concerns about the length of time between reappraisals, the process used by, and the accuracy of the City’s contracted residential reappraisal consultant, Tyler Technologies.” As the resolution goes on to talk about the appearance of arbitrary decisions and the lack of advance notice of potential increases, therein only lies the question of how to fix the system and better serve the community. 

Recently, the North Carolina Ad Hoc Reappraisal committee invited SYNEVA Economics, regional economic research expert, to provide a report on residential property assessment equity in Buncombe County, North Carolina. The inquiry’s purpose was to provide an objective, unbiased evaluation of residential property assessment outcomes. 

The analysis evaluated 25,886 home sales from the annual tax periods of 2016 to 2021. To summarize, the report detailed through many graphs that there are no significant, or alarming, inequities. While there would be times that numbers, overassessments, and underassessments would fluctuate, this was due in part to the amount of time between appraisals, and that Western North Carolina is experiencing significant property price growth. 

According to the report, “over the last six years, 2016 to 2021, average home prices in Buncombe County have risen significantly. On average, prices rose by 43.2 percent, or $118,200, an annual average increase of 7.5% per year.”

Economics expert Tom Tveidt notes that the data is subjective and can be read differently depending on its viewer. 

Urban3, a participant in the Just Accounting project and the group that has spearheaded the research on property tax inequities in Western North Carolina, believes that SYNEVA Economics has missed the mark on their research by oversimplifying the inquiry and presenting inconclusive findings. 

“Specifically, the study defines ‘communities’ using large and arbitrary boundaries. This approach makes it nearly impossible to detect patterns that exist at a local neighborhood level. There are 75 neighborhoods in the City of Asheville alone, but this study subdivided the entire county into only 27 areas. We know that decades of redlining and urban renewal were implemented with better geographic precision,” writes Ori Barber, analyst for Urban3 and Buncombe County Ad Hoc Reappraisal Committee Member. 

The committee has invited Joe Minicozzi from Urban3 to speak on the data Urban3 has gathered regarding Western North Carolina’s property tax system. The presentation will go live on April 20; it will be interesting to see how the committee reacts to this report, as it will differ greatly from the findings from SYNEVA economics. If you are interested in tuning in to this public event, visit here

The Just Accounting for Health project will be in motion until the summer of 2023, and over that time there will be several community summits focused on identifying actionable solutions to local tax inequities. In the end, the consortium will utilize the results and feedback from these studies to create a toolkit for local municipalities focused on bringing about more equitable tax policies.  

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