Members of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity continued the fight against the Forsyth County tax revaluations Tuesday, during an open meeting with area homeowners.
Rev. Willard Bass, president of the Conference, urged all those present to file formal appeals of the county tax assessors’ 2013 revaluations, which saw a decrease in value in 93 percent of properties countywide and, many believe, disproportionately affect communities of color. The ministers are joining forces with community leaders in an effort to get as many residents as possible to appeal the county tax assessor’s decision to the Forsyth County Board of Equalization and Review, which oversees the tax office, before the June 28 deadline. The hope is that an organized, unified rejection of the assigned values will convince the Board to overturn the current assessment process, Conference leaders said.
“There’s no rhyme or reason, there’s no formula that anybody can find on how they came up with the value of your house and everybody else’s house,” The Ministers Conference’s Marina Skinner told the modest crowd of homeowners that assembled at Emmanuel Baptist Church for the meeting. “There was nothing that was scientifically done, nothing that was properly done, to come up with the value of the housing.”
Bass also railed against what he deems an “unfair and systemically flawed tax assessment process.”
“We see houses in other parts of the community that did not have the same type of depreciation as there was in East Winston,” said Bass, a pastor at Green Street United Methodist Church. “We’re wondering why there is such a difference.”
Local homeowners Bobby Wilson and Carolyn Highsmith also addressed the audience during the meeting. Highsmith, a resident of the Konnoak Hills neighborhood, is helping to organize an effort to get as many homeowners to appeal their homes’ assessed tax value as possible.
“The 2013 revaluation process needs to be stopped and an outside tax appraisal service needs to be hired by the County Commissioners to completely redo the revaluation process,” she declared.
Highsmith said County Commissioners’ District A, which encompasses most urban communities, was the hardest hit by the revaluations.
“A majority of stable, African American neighborhoods have seen their tax values dip by as much as 50-75 percent, including the homes of some African American leaders,” Highsmith said. “Many of these neighborhoods had little or no sales (since the 2009 revaluation).”
Highsmith voiced concerns about “institutional biases” within the appraisal system that she said could put minority communities at a greater risk of losing their homes to gentrification. The values are “drastically out of line with the current real estate market,” which is on the upswing, Highsmith said, and create an environment where large real estate developers can “sweep in and buy these devalued properties at rock bottom prices.”
Many others at the meeting also voiced concerns about the ongoing impacts of the revaluation.
“They want you to pay taxes on a $100,000 home, and then they turn around and tell you it’s only worth $35,000,” one man said. “That math don’t make sense to me.”
“Some people have said to me, ‘I’m happy I don’t have to pay as much tax,’ but I don’t feel that way,” said Dr. Virginia Newell, whose Pickford Court home’s value has plummeted as a result of the revaluation. “…For poor people, your home is about the only thing that you’ve got to leave for your legacy to your family, to your children, and if we lose that, what’s left?”
Some meeting attendees reported success in regaining some of the value of their homes after filing an informal appeal, but others complained that assessors did little or nothing to inspect the homes, or did not honor their inspection appointments.
“We’ve lost confidence in the system,” Bass said. “We’d like to have integrity returned to the system.”
Forsyth County Tax Assessor John Burgiss was on hand for the meeting. Burgiss said he had heard several concerns that he wanted to investigate further, but defended his office, saying the revaluation process has not changed.
“Everything we do is based off of sales,” he stated. “The formula and methodology are the same as they always been.”
The Tax Assessor’s office has received fewer appeals than in previous years, but the appeals have been in more concentrated areas than in the past, Burgiss said. The Board of Equalization and Review has asked Burgiss and his team to take a closer look at 14 specific neighborhoods in the area, a process which is already underway, he reported.
“I’m here to make sure that I’m accountable to the community and to make sure that I understand what their concerns are,” Burgiss stated. “We want the right thing, which is the right value on every property and fairness and equity across the board for all properties, regardless of where they’re located.”
Property owners who need help filing a formal appeal of the 2013 revaluation are invited to visit Carver School Branch Library, Malloy/Jordan East Winston Heritage Center or Central Library on Saturday, June 8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Monday, June 10 from noon to 9 p.m. Volunteers will be on hand at each location to assist in the printing and/or completion of the forms and to receive completed forms from property owners to be presented en masse to the Tax Assessor’s Office.
For more information, contact Highsmith at 336-788-9461 or Bass at 336-575-2487.