Wake County property tax

October 23, 2008 1:59:48 PM PDT
Some Wake County residents say they're getting hit unfairly by a double-whammy of sorts in this challenging economy: they're staring at falling home prices just months after many tax bills skyrocketed with property revaluation.Eyewitness News did some quick checking and found several examples of this. In one instance, a home in the upscale Drewry Hills neighborhood inside Raleigh's Beltline sold in September for a price of $315,000. Its tax value is listed at $398,000. County commissioner Paul Coble says he's hearing of stories like this every week.

"We did the re-evaluation, and now you've seen the bubble burst on property values, and it's become fairly obvious to me that a lot of people are paying property taxes on property that's valued higher than what the market values it at," Coble said.

But the opposite is also true. Just a few blocks from the house mentioned above, Eyewitness News found a house assessed at $370,000 that sold at the end of July for $450,000. Officials at the Wake County Revenue Department say those examples are "outliers", and that most homes that are selling are still going for prices very close to their assessed values.

In fact, the county looks at a statistic known as Level of Assessment to track sales and see if they are lining up with recently assessed values. The Level of Assessment is calculated by the assessed value of a house and dividing it by the sale price. If homes are selling right at their assessed tax value, the Level of Assessment is 100. The Revenue Department says the median Level of Assessment for sales since August (excluding "outliers) is 99.67, or very close to where it should be.

Still, Coble thinks those "outliers" deserve attention. He doesn't believe that doing another revaluation just because home sales are slipping is practical or financially sensible. But he does believe the county should look at lowering its tax rate, which would have the effect of reducing the amount paid in property taxes.

"Anybody who tells you any government that doesn't have the money that can be saved in a budget just isn't looking as hard as they need to," Coble says.

It's unclear how many of Coble's commissioners agree with him when it comes to potentially cutting taxes. Joe Bryan, the chair of Wake County Commissioners, says he's keeping an eye on this revaluation issue, but isn't sure altering the tax rate is the best solution. Bryan points out the county is already looking at a $17 million shortfall in this year's budget; cutting taxes would only widen any funding gap.

"It's something that we're gonna have to monitor and be concerned about for our citizens. I don't know that there's a golden answer," Bryan says.

But the revaluation issue is clearly on the commissioners' radar. And they expect to continue to hear from those so-called "outliers", whose property tax soared to levels they believe are well beyond the market value of their homes.


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