County eyes tax hike to counter low revaluations
Property owners should expect a rate hike as the city and county scramble for ways to make up the millions they will lose as a result of recent revaluations by the office of the Forsyth County Tax Assessor.
Ninety-three percent of properties saw a decline in value, some by 30 and even 50 percent. Property taxes at the current rate (67.4 cents per $100 of value) on the reassessed properties would mean a $16-$19 million shortfall for the city and county, said Ronda Tatum, director of the county’s Budget and Management Department.
Though it will ultimately be up to County Commissioners to decide, Tatum said she fully expects property tax rates to increase to make up for the projected deficit.
“Because of the value being so much lower, in order for us to retain the same amount of revenue, we would have to adjust the rate upward,” explained Tatum.
The budget office will likely recommend an increase of 4.28 cents per $100 of value, which Tatum said would still leave the city and county with a $5 million deficit.
Though the tax increase could help keep the local government from hemorrhaging money, it does nothing for the homeowners who have lost tens of thousands of dollars in equity. In her career, Tatum said she’s never seen anything like the fallout thousands of homeowners are weathering now.
“It’s never been like this, not in the 20 years that I’ve been here,” she declared. “This is unprecedented for me.”
Forsyth County Tax Assessor John Burgiss has extended the deadline for homeowners to submit an informal revaluation appeal to March 12. Homeowners who complete the informal appeal will have their homes reassessed inside and out. The revaluations did not consider the interior improvements and investments many homeowners have made. Those who wish to bypass the tax office altogether may submit a formal appeal to the Forsyth County Board of Equalization and Review by June 28, he said.
Skyland Park resident Virginia Newell said she is still reeling from the decrease in her property value, which plummeted from $116,900 in 2009 to $34,000.
“I have been here since ’65 and it has increased every year because we have improved it,” she said of her home, which is situated on a culdesac off a quiet, sunny street. “We’ve tried to keep it in good shape.”
Newell, a retired educator and former member of the Winston-Salem City Council, said the city’s black communities seem to be the hardest hit. “If this house had been devalued in the way that the whites’ were devalued, my house would be like $80,000, and I wouldn’t fight that, because I understand the way that the housing market has fallen,” she said. “But I don’t understand the drastic cuts as I think they have done in most black communities.”
County Commissioner Walter Marshall, who represents the area where the bulk of the most drastic property value drops occurred, said he also believes the reevaluation process was unfair to minorities.
“My major concern is the appeal process and how unfair it is to some parts of the county,” he stated. “In East Winston, there had to be a another formula (applied). The math just doesn’t add up when you devalue one side of town and overvalue the other.”
Marshall said County Commissioners have already identified some errors in the tax reassessment process that, once corrected, may alleviate some of the disparities he and others say the process has caused, though he declined to go into detail.
“There were a lot of mistakes in the process that were done that can be corrected and may solve a lot of problems,” commented Marshall.
He and other city and county officials are encouraging all homeowners whose homes lost significant value in the reassessment to file an informal appeal in an effort to increase the value of their homes, and as a result, their communities.
City Council Member Derwin Montgomery convened a community meeting at his church, First Calvary Baptist, last week to delve deeper into the tax assessment process. Some of those in attendance expressed concerns that the depressed property tax values could negatively affect sales in those areas. Montgomery, whose Dreamland Park home dropped $80,000 in value, said he doesn’t believe the assessment’s findings are correct. He added that he would be appealing the assessment of his home, which he purchased two years prior for considerably more than it is currently valued.
“I’ll be taking mine down personally today, along with a copy of my appraisal (from the 2011 sale),” he related.
Though Burgiss explained the process in detail at the meeting, many city residents are still upset about the reassessment, reported Montgomery, who represents the city’s East Ward, one of the hardest hit by the reassessments.
“He gave a detailed presentation on the methodology used to come up with the values that they came up with,” he said. “…(but) it still doesn’t soften the brunt of the blow that you feel for that much decrease of tax value of the property.”