With the bulk of assessed 2020 property taxes already collected and in the county’s coffers, Chatham County Tax Administrator Jenny Williams and her staff at the county’s tax offices are in the …
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With the bulk of assessed 2020 property taxes already collected and in the county’s coffers, Chatham County Tax Administrator Jenny Williams and her staff at the county’s tax offices are in the process of turning their attention to a significant quadrennial event: the once-every-four-years reappraisal of each of the county’s 45,564 parcels of property.
This year’s revaluation — the process of which actually began two years ago and follows Chatham’s last reappraisal in 2017 — will culminate in new assessed market values for each and every parcel.
So far, some 36,000 parcels have been reappraised and reviewed. And within a few weeks, whether it’s residential, commercial, agricultural or industrial, every other privately owned piece of land — and any improvements, from a structure like a home or outbuilding to a new deck or concrete pad — will have been assigned a new fair market value, all tied to the Jan. 1, 2021, date.
North Carolina law requires all counties to conduct a reappraisal at least once every eight years. Williams, a 30-year county employee who’s been in the county’s tax office for two years after spending a large part of her county career in the finance department, says Chatham County is on a four-year reappraisal cycle, as are most larger counties in the state. Once it’s performed, Williams says, the reappraisal distributes the overall property tax burden equitably across the county based on updated fair market values. The new market values will be used by Chatham’s county commissioners to set a county-only tax rate (currently 67 cents per $100 valuation) and to calculate tax bills mailed each September until the next reappraisal occurs.
As tax administrator, Williams is both Chatham’s official tax assessor and tax collector. As her tax collection work nears its zenith (see sidebar story), those initial stages of the revaluation process — the assessor piece of her job — is nearing completion. For that work, the county contracted with Vincent Valuations, an Elizabeth City-based company which specializes in working with counties on the reappraisal process.
How do the reappraisals occur?
“They (Vincent Valuations) do what’s called a full list and measure,” said Williams. “They visit every property in Chatham County and as long as the homeowner didn’t have a problem with them being on their property, they measure every house as part of the process.”
Vincent Valuations works all around N.C., but this is the company’s first time contracting with Chatham County. Once the field work — 10 or so company employees making those visitations to each parcel of property over a period of months, performing measurements and makings notes of changes since the last reappraisal — is completed, the data collected is processed by Vincent Valuations staff. Data entry is input into the company’s computer system within its temporary offices of the tax department, and then, recent sales of properties in Chatham are analyzed — “We’re trying to figure out what people are paying for what kinds of houses in what kinds of neighborhoods,” says company owner Ryan Vincent — and valuation models and schedules are then built for the appraisals and revaluation.
A smaller number of Vincent’s staff, around four or five employees, then review each of the 45,000-plus appraisals to determine the final fair market value. That part of the work should be completed by the end of February, he said. A reappraisal presentation will be made to the board of commissioners on March 1, and later in the month, reappraisal notices will be mailed to all property owners.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about our process,” Vincent said. “Some people think we’re just going out there and putting a value on a home. We’re not. We are trying to mimic the market. We’re looking at what homes are buying and selling for, the style of the home, the age, the quality of construction … In the reappraisal process, things are constantly changing until the very end.”
And it’s a joint effort, according to Williams.
“We rely on them,” she said. “We meet often and discuss certain situations. We work together with them. They’re not doing it solely on their own.”
Those final assessed valuations — again, based on the fair market value as of Jan. 1, 2021 — will be a part of that March presentation to commissioners and the subsequent mailing of revaluation notices. And while neither Williams nor Vincent would comment on what they’re seeing insofar as trends in the new valuations — “Some properties are going up in value, and some are going down,” Vincent said — it’s certain that valuations will surprise some property owners when they receive their notifications.
The county has set aside the months of April through August to hear appeals from property owners who think the reappraisal of their property is too high (or, in rare cases, too low). Chatham has established a Board of Equalization and Review — made up of community members appointed to hear appeals — to provide a method for property owners to challenge revaluations.
For his part, Vincent says those who end up making appeals throughout the spring and summer need to gather evidence to support their cases.
“A lot of time we get appeals in the mail that are just blank,” he said. “People will write, ‘I don’t like my property value,’ or, ‘My taxes are too high.’ We need some sort of evidence … some sales, some evidence, something about the property.”
Vincent also urges property owners to review the information contained in the mailing for accuracy and to compare their homes to others which have recently sold.
“If you still disagree, then file an appeal” he said. “I tell people to treat the appeal process like they’re going to court. Submit evidence you have … a recent appraisal, or maybe you’ve refinanced. And there may be something wrong with the house we don’t know about.”
Williams says all the work done so far is being checked and double-checked as reviews take place.
“And they’ll go back through them again, one more time,” she said.
Her advice for property owners?
“If they can provide documentation to us that changes things,” she said, “we can adjust the value.”
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