'They're punishing us:' Longtime Chatham County homeowners say they can't afford property tax bill

Dozens of Chatham County residents experienced some sticker shock when they got their latest property tax bill showing the new value of their property after the county did a reassessment.

While these homeowners understand growth and the crazy real estate market is driving up home prices, they say this latest increase is putting a hardship on those who have lived in their homes for years.

"I was appalled at mine. This property went from $679,000 to over a million and that's a 51% increase in one year from last year's taxation. So to me, it's totally unacceptable," said Roland Cargill.

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He appealed to Chatham County the increase, but lost, and is now appealing to the state.

"I'm 76 years old and I'm on a fixed income and for them to raise my taxes from a little over $5,000 to a little over $8,000. That's a hardship," Cargill said.

Cargill is not alone.

Several Chatham County residents who live in the northeast side of the county expressed their concerns to Troubleshooter Diane Wilson about the county's latest reassessment of their property values.

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"My taxes the dollar amount went up 18% and I'm retired don't have anybody to help me pay my bills. So it was a shock to me," Cloyse Lassiter, who lives along Highway 751, said.

Maurice Nunn, whose family has lived on the farmland for more than 100 years, said: "My property tax value went up 20%, and that's after I took 1.5 acres off of the land. We really can't afford to pay those higher taxes."

Homeowner Jim Cassese couldn't believe it when he opened his 2021 property tax bill.

"My property taxes went from $445,000 to over $913,000 based on no improvements," he said.

Cassese's 25-year-old home sits on just under eight acres.

"I live on a dead-end gravel road, there is not a sidewalk, there is no city water, no city sewer, no high-speed internet," he said.

He appealed the new value to Chatham County.

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"I asked him to send me what their process was for coming up with $913,000 and they never sent me a single thing," he said.

Cassese recently refinanced and that appraisal had his property valued at $570,000.

After not getting results with his Chatham County appeal, he then appealed to the state and that prompted a call from a Chatham County attorney.

"We've worked a little harder on this and we can get you down to $593,000," Cassese said. That's a $320,000 drop from what Chatham County originally reassessed it at.

"I was like, 'how many other people didn't do what I did and complain? Like, they're just throwing numbers out of people to see what sticks to see who doesn't complain to see who doesn't voice their displeasure towards it," Cassese said.

One big question these residents have surrounds the services the county provides.

"I just don't understand why the big jump with no additional resources," longtime resident Ora Horton said.

In this part of Chatham County, these residents don't have many of the county services.

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"The only difference we have on that road we live on now is it is now paved and it was dirt," Nunn said. "There is no water, gas, or internet."

For many of these property owners, the land has been in their family for well over 100 years, long before the growth.

Danny Jenkins is one of those residents.

"It's family land. We don't have any interest in selling land," he said.

A total of 17 acres of land has been in the Jenkins family for more than 100 years. The area is broken down into three different properties, the newest home is more than 45 years old, but that isn't stopping drastic increases in property taxes.

"Until this, reappraisal was $257,973 and that was with the land. When they came back they came in at $414,843 for a total of 61% increase," Jenkins said.

That's just one of his properties, all three properties' values increased.

"They're punishing us because we don't want to sell our land. They're basing it on what other people are selling it for," he said.

Gary Sears and his family are in the same boat.

"I've been here all my life and I'm not as concerned about the present, as I am the future. I'm worried about the next generation. People would just not be able to afford to keep what we have," Sears said.

His daughter Ashley lives nearby.

"My property tax went up 38%," she said.

She's worried not only about these latest reassessments but what's to come.

"I don't know how we're gonna continue to live here if it keeps going up like that," she said.

Bill White has two properties in Chatham County. One is five acres of land off of New Hope Church Road in the northeast part of the county and he says the latest reassessment of the value increased by $75,000.

"Nothing has been done to it," he said. He appealed, and the county did lower it but he still has an increase of $57,000.

However, what's baffling, he says, is that he lives in his home in the Preserve at Jordan Lake, also in Chatham County, but his latest reassessed value on his home there didn't go up.

"It actually went down 20% from last year, which very surprised at that because all the homes in that area are selling for even more than the asking price," White said.

Chatham County Tax Administrator Jenny Williams said the county paid $1.3 million to an outside firm to reassess all 45,000 properties in the county.

"We visited every property which is over 45,000 parcels in the county. If they could access the property, they went on site and measured every structure that was on the property and took photos of the homes and they also talked to the residents if they were there," she said.

She said the county hired an outside firm to do the reassessments because the county doesn't have the staff to handle that workload.

Once a visit was made to every property, the data from each property was then compared to the current real estate market.

"It's all based on the sales in the area. Market value is what drives the reappraisal and that's the reason why we have to do a reappraisal," she said.

When it comes to why one property's value in the county may be different than another's she said: "Some areas just have more growth in it. Location is the key. It's all based on what a financially willing buyer is willing to pay the seller and if the seller is willing to sell."

Williams said despite these residents living very close to the Wake County line, they do not use any property sales or value from Wake County.

"We do not compare ourselves to another county for two reasons. One, other counties are on their different reappraisal schedule than we are. Also, we do not know Wake counties sales data. We track our sales data through registered deeds. We know how much people pay for a property based on the deed stamps that are paid," she said.

When it comes to residents questioning why their values were reassessed so high when they don't have county services like sewer and water, Williams said: "The majority of our county does not have county water or sewer. And as far as services utility high-speed internet, that is a utility that is not provided by the county and the majority of our county does not have that either."

Northeast Chatham County is the area where growth is exploding. A look at the numbers provided by Chatham County show the average increase in property values for the county was just 17% from 2020-2021, but the area these residents live in saw an average of a 43% increase.

"Pricing the people in this corner of the county, pricing them out," White said.

Residents do have the right to appeal their reassessments.

Out of the 45,000 properties reassessed, Williams says about 1,700 appealed, and of those she says 1,320 went down in value upon the appeal, 335 there was no change in value, 60 properties were raised in value upon appeal.

During those appeals, residents must show why their property is not worth the latest reassessment.

"This is a mass appraisal and we have to appraise over 45,000 parcels as of one date, and we gather the best information that we can based on the timeframe that we have," Williams said. "It is not the same as a fee appraisal because the appraisals are done individually and those appraisers can come into the home. So that's the reason we ask taxpayers to please look at your information that is on our website. Look at the square footage that we have there. Look at the quality grade that we have on your home. Finish unfinished square footage. We are dependent on the taxpayers to find that information. Because we go with the best information that we can we have at the time."

Another question many of the longtime Chatham County residents asked was, why can't a freeze be put on property value for those on a fixed income and who can't afford to pay taxes on the increased values?

"We don't have the authority to do that," Williams said. "Statutes do not allow for you to freeze the value on a property. Now we do have exemption exclusions that are available for the elderly and disabled. Now there are age and income requirements for that, but that information is available through our office if anybody's interested."

You can also find that information here.

Unfortunately for these residents, the appeal process has ended. If you want to appeal next year's property tax value, you can do that starting on January 1.

Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne provided this statement regarding the increase in revenue from the latest property reassessments:

"Chatham County continues to see rapid growth as many areas in the Triangle area have. The increases in the value of residents' property assets are a clear indication of this growth. As growth occurs, local government services must also grow to continue providing its programs and services to residents. In last year's budget, Chatham County added 31 new staff positions to keep up with the growth. The county recently completed the construction of and opened Chatham Grove Elementary School in the northeast part of the county and Seaforth High School in the east. We are also expanding our emergency operations and 911 call center, as well as upgrading our emergency radio system. These projects are vital to serving our growing community."
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