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Don’t agree with new property assessment? Appeal it

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Chris Ellis
Bladen County Tax Administrator Chris Ellis

It may rank as a property owner’s least favorite word: revaluation.

It’s a time when governments check and adjust the fair market value of every parcel within their jurisdictions. It’s required by state law to be done at least every eight years. Bladen County’s last valuation was done in 2007, so it was time for an update.

The initial numbers show a loss of about $9.4 million in real estate value in Bladen County since 2007, which is a drop of 4.7 percent. Based on Bladen County’s current tax rate of 74 cents per $100 of property, that would be a loss of about $70,000 in tax revenue. Bladen County has slightly more than $2 billion in real estate value.

Earlier this month, Bladen County property owners got to see the results of a process that took about 18 months to complete when assessed real estate value notices were mailed by the Bladen County Tax Department. While Bladen County’s total property values were lower, some property owners saw their values increase substantially.

Bladen County Tax Administrator Chris Ellis and his staff of assistant assessor, Renee Davis, tax collector, Carol Cain, revenue clerks, Glorietta Barnes and Alicia Mitchell, mapping technician, Cynthia Jones, and real estate appraiser, Chris Johnson know what lies ahead as property owners complain and fuss and fume and, more importantly, appeal those assessments.

Ellis encourages property owners to appeal values in which they don’t agree. The deadline to file an appeal is 30 days from the date listed on the notice, which should be between March 9 and March 11, depending on the notice. However, Ellis points out, claiming “I couldn’t get that much for it” or “I didn’t pay that much for it” carries little weight in the appeal process.

“The reaction has been pretty much as expected,” Ellis said. “A lot of folks that did see an increase are coming in and appealing. They want to know why. And that’s what we want, because when you appeal that gives us the chance to make sure that what we have in our records is exactly what you have.”

There are three ways to appeal assessed property values: Mail the completed Informal Appeal Form and supporting documentation that came with the recently mailed tax notice to the Bladen County Tax Department, P.O. Box 774, Elizbethtown, NC 28337; scan and attach the Informal Appeal Form and documentation in an email and send to; or fax the information to (910) 862-6737. Ellis says the property owner will receive a written response after a review of the appeal. If still not satisfied, property owners may appeal to the Board of Equalization and Review.

Ellis says its industry standard for about 10 percent of property owners to appeal. That would mean about 3,000 appeals in Bladen County.

Determining value

Determining the value of the approximately 32,000 parcels in Bladen County was not some willy-nilly process. It involved staff from Assessment Solution visiting each parcel and manually measuring property to make sure what’s listed in the tax office is actually what’s on the property. Other workers checked comparable sales of property in the area. Results from the visible check and data are combined to determine a fair market value.

“We do reappraisals for two reasons,” Ellis said. “No. 1, we want to keep up with the market. Obviously, the more often you do it, the more often you’re keeping up with the market because the market fluctuates. No. 2 is for equity. We want to make sure that everybody is valued fairly.

“When we do a reappraisal we’re doing nothing more than what an independent appraiser would do,” said Ellis. “We’re going to look at (comparable sales). If five houses that are very comparable to yours have sold from $150,000 to $160,000 over the past 6 to 12 months, it stands to reason that your house is going to sell for that. Our job is to find what the current market value is for your house.”

Which, says Ellis, is not the same thing as what was paid for the property or what the property may actually sell for in a private transaction.

“We’re valuing an arms length transaction,” Ellis said. “All that means is that you have a willing buyer and a willing seller, and everybody is well aware of the property and nobody is under duress to sell, unlike a foreclosure.

“Lot of folks will say ‘This is what I paid for it’ or ‘This is what it cost me so this is what you should value it at.’ We don’t value based on what you paid. We value it based on the open market. We don’t know why you got it for that price. Did you get it on foreclosure or repossession? Did you get it from your brother, who is going to sell it to you for a lot less? Or, did you buy it and have to spend $40,000 to $50,000 to fix it up.”

Understanding frustration

Still, Ellis understands the frustration many people feel when tax assessment notices are sent. The job of the tax department, he says, is to explain how values are determined.

“Do I understand the frustration? Absolutely,” said Ellis, who has served as Bladen County’s tax administrator for six years and worked in county tax offices in Robeson and Cumberland counties for 10 years prior. “It’s personal to the taxpayer. This is their property. I don’t know their livelihood. I don’t know their financial situation. So it’s personal to them, especially when they see a valuation increase. That’s why when someone appeals, we want to take the time to sit down with that taxpayer and go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

“I tell my staff that if we didn’t work in the tax office, we wouldn’t know what we know about taxes. Keep that in mind when your sharing that with the public.

“When we get a chance to sit down and go through it methodically, they leave with an understanding,” Ellis said, “and that frustration level comes down because they have a better understanding. They may not leave skipping and whistling, but they have a better understanding.”

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