In a perfect world, the state-mandated property revaluations each of North Carolina’s 100 counties must undergo at least once every eight years would be what’s called a “revenue-neutral” …
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In a perfect world, the state-mandated property revaluations each of North Carolina’s 100 counties must undergo at least once every eight years would be what’s called a “revenue-neutral” event.
Meaning this: total new valuation of all appraised property multiplied by the ad valorem tax rate commissioners set as a part of the new fiscal budget process generates roughly the same revenue as the prior year’s, under the previous valuation.
But Chatham County isn’t stuck in neutral, as evidenced by the Jan. 1, 2021, revaluation recently completed. When all is said and done, county tax officials expect the total valuation of all non-exempt parcels and properties to increase about 14% overall. (Municipal-owned properties, for example, aren’t assessed property taxes.) As Chatham grows and becomes a more desirable place to live, it’s not surprising that 77% of all parcels showed an increase in value — according to the valuation done by Vincent Valuations, hired by the county for this year’s reappraisal — over the last revaluation four years ago.
Still, many Chatham residents were quite surprised when revaluation notices hit their mailboxes — prompting social media outbursts ranging from outrage to glee, and spurring the creation of at least one local Facebook group where those unhappy with their valuations can rant.
The other proverbial shoe will drop come budget time.
Fair warning: don’t expect the 2021-22 Chatham County budget, which must be set by the end of June, to be revenue-neutral. County Manager Dan LaMontagne signaled as much when he told the News + Record that the county’s rapid growth requires more services from local government to support it.
“Estimates of revenue and expenses to bring a balanced budget to the board of commissioners are still being formulated,” he said. “That being said, we already know of a number of expenses that are needed to support this growth. The new Seaforth High School will be opening next year with an estimated operating cost of approximately $2.3 million. We have also limited the expansion of staffing over the last two years while the growth in the county has outpaced the addition of staff. Most departments have been handling the increased workload with limited resources. These and other expenses will be considered along with the projected revenues as we prepare the balanced budget.”
Chatham County Commissioners will have the final say in the budget process and in setting a new county-wide property tax rate, but the fact is, a new high school, funding staffing needs and the necessity to manage the infrastructure stemming from growth mean the county’s operating budget will very likely see changes — increases — regardless of the timing of the mandated property revaluation.
So, short-term, most Chatham residents can expect property taxes to increase. That’s the imperfect part of this process. But long-term, it must be emphasized, the growth in population coming Chatham’s way will lead to more homes and businesses. The county’s tax base will increase significantly in coming years, meaning the tax burden gets spread more broadly. And in that imperfect process, over time, if the growth is managed, the individual tax burden of property owners should lessen, not increase.
It doesn’t always happen that way, but Chatham is uniquely-positioned for it. Residential growth in places like Chatham Park, business and retail growth that follows, and the county’s megasites primed for an industrial boom will, in time, be a huge boon for the tax base. And, hopefully, for the taxpaying property owners inside the county.
County budgets and property tax rates are always a balancing act. There’s plenty of evidence to show that most homeowners receive more services than their taxes pay for, in part because of the high cost of building and maintaining schools. On an upward growth trajectory — where Chatham finds itself now — the balance sometimes tips against you.
But on the downhill coast, in the glow that naturally results from what’s expected to be that huge surge in tax base, the scales, in time, tip back in your favor. As Chatham’s commercial tax base (very low in comparison to our neighbors) grows, the proportional tax burden on residential taxpayers will shrink. It’s very nearly a mathematical certainty.
That won’t assuage unhappy homeowners today, though. For right now, the reality is that the timing of Chatham’s reappraisal occurred in the midst a hot housing market. The number of homes on the market in the United States right now is at a record low; half of all homes sell within a week of being listed, according to a recent story published in Bloomberg Wealth.
So what to do? First, Chatham homeowners have an outlet to protest their revaluation through an appeal process. (The deadline is at 5 p.m. on May 6; start your appeal at https://gisservices.chathamcountync.gov/taxrequest/.)
And second: have patience as you keep your eye on the big picture. Pay attention during the county’s discussions about budget and tax rates, but know that Chatham’s capacity for significant commercial and residential growth can, in the long run, mean a lower tax bill all around for the average homeowner.