Group to take a new look at taxes

Sep. 30, 2013 @ 09:22 AM

Commissioners are taking a new look at property taxes, especially  how property values are determined and how taxpayers dispute bills.
Although they have questions about how the tax office handles delinquent taxpayers, don’t expect a garnishment or tax lien campaign, said Republican Commissioner Bill Bencini of High Point.
• Collections: “There is interest in having a standard policy on collections,” Bencini said. “We know there are some large unpaid bills out there, and some people skate for a long time while others get their wages garnished. That is perceived as unfair. And it seems it should take just as long to get the big money.”
A new four-member committee will meet for the second time in October. The group also could review what’s called asset discovery, Bencini said. That’s paying a commission to investigators to find unlisted properties.
“You can’t do this like that anymore,” Bencini said. “We have to decide if we want to have this done on a contract or handle it in house as we used to.”
• Appeals: Democratic Commissioner Bruce Davis of High Point also serves on the committee. 
“I’m concerned about the Board of Equalization and Review and taxpayers not having representation for their appeal cases,” Davis said. “Poor people do not have access to lawyers that other people may have, and they are not that familiar with real estate.”
If not satisfied, taxpayers can take their assessment appeal cases to the state.
“We want to make this process more friendly,” Bencini said.
• Revaluation: Shortening the revaluation cycle could save some of the sticker shock for taxpayers after appraisals.
Tax Director Ben Chavis has suggested a five-year revaluation cycle to counter volatility in the real estate markets. Because Guilford uses an eight-year cycle, taxpayers paid bills through 2012 based on 2004 values, which could have been much higher than actual later market values seen in the housing recession. 
“You can get big changes because so much time passes,” Bencini said.
Davis’ 2012 day care business property revaluation was a surprise, he said, because it was so close to one from a appraiser he hired. “The difference could have been the business use of the property on my assessment,” he said. “Sometimes it is hard to get an apples-to-apples comparison.”
• Office Work: Tax office efficiency is another topic.
“I’ve heard that if the computer system does not give you what you need, they have to work around that,” Davis said. “I’m concerned that the software may not be working as it should.”

Tax topics

• Sticker shock: There were few large property tax hikes in 2012, according to Tax Director Ben Chavis,  because the county saw no general shift in values up or down.

• Appeals: There were 7,500 informal assessment appeals in 2012 representing  3.6 percent of property owners. An appeal rate below 10 percent is considered good.