10/26/08 — Duplin eyes fairness of valuations of property

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Duplin eyes fairness of valuations of property

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 26, 2008 2:00 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County commissioners want to hear from the county's real estate agents and appraisers before adopting a schedule of values that will determine how property in the county is valued for tax purposes.

Lacking from Monday's meeting were residents' pointed questions commissioners faced earlier this month during a public hearing on the schedule.

The schedule was to have been adopted Monday, but commissioners opted for a more in-depth work session first. That session will be Nov. 10 at 9 a.m.

The board also plans to use that time to address budget and economic issues that Commissioner David Fussell has brought before the board numerous times over the past several months.

The county cannot mail out property valuations until the board approves the schedule of values, something it hopes do Dec. 1. Even then, the values have to be advertised for four weeks before the notices can be mailed out.

During the earlier public hearing, property owners, including several from the exclusive River Landing community near Wallace, questioned the fairness and methodology used by the county.

Those property owners contend there have not been enough recent home sales in the county to arrive at a fair market value. The property owners said data more than six months old should not be used.

County tax officials agreed there have been few sales. However, they said the county can use figures as old as one year.

Property owners also were concerned that a depressed housing market could continue to drive down property values.

They argued that would mean that the value of their houses would be less six months from now. That, they said, would increase their taxes since they would be paying taxes based on today's higher value.

Fussell sparked the debate after reading a letter from former county manager Ralph Cottle.

In his letter, Cottle said there had been a housing slump of between 25-30 percent mostly within the past couple of months. So, he wrote, the (value) numbers "must be inflated if the figures are based on pre-slump figures."

Fussell noted that there had been an open house in his neighborhood recently, and that at the end of the day he asked if people had been in to look and was told "not the first" person had.

He said he knows of 519 unsold houses in the county.

As for land values, Fussell said Cottle wrote that the federal tobacco allotment would inflate the value of land in the county.

"This is no rocks thrown at you (county tax office officials), it will be rocks thrown at us in light of the decline in the economy and land and housing for us to adopt this schedule as presented," Fussell said. "I'd like to make a motion to table this until we can invite the bankers, real estate agents and have them review the schedule and adjust them accordingly. There is no rush that says a decision has to be made today."

His motion was seconded by Commissioner Cary Turner and unanimously approved.

Bob Pearson of Pearson Appraisals, the company working with the county on its property revaluation, said he and county Tax Administrator Gary Rose already have started meeting with bankers and appraisers.

In response to questioning by Commissioner L.S. Guy, Pearson explained that the values are simply the square-footage cost figures and land-based values.

"We use this schedule of values as a tool," Pearson said. "Right now, I am as much concerned as you are. It is not a time to be casual by any means because I don't know what is going to happen between now and the first of the year.

"So far the bankers and appraisers we have talked to have said it is a flat year. I can't figure one bit of appreciation whatsoever. But I don't want to run scared and lower values. But I think caution is the word right now."

Pearson said the values could be lowered or raised if needed.

"We do not want to over assess any property in the county," he said. "But we owe it to you and the taxpayers to be fair to everybody."