The Ashe County Board of Commissioners heard a 2015 tax reassessment presentation, at their last meeting, by Ashe County Tax Administrator Keith Little.
At issue was a point of no return in the Ashe County Tax Department’s schedule for real property assessment.
The state requires that counties reassess property values every eight years under G.S. 105-286.
But in 2008 the BOC resolved to halve the statutory period, and do reassessments every four years. With 2012 ending, the board had to decide to stay with the four-year schedule or revert to eight years.
Little explained the reasons for keeping to the tighter schedule.
“[In 2008] the Board of Commissioners felt like four years was a better option,” Little said. “Over eight years, we were seeing large increases in assessed values, which are a reflection of market values.”
From 1998 to 2006 — the peak year of the housing bubble — property values increased about 100 percent, Little said.
Taxpayers were getting “sticker shock,” he said. The four-year assessment schedule was intended to make tax increases more gradual.
While the BOC is always concerned about the health of the county’s tax base, Little said the focus in his department is not the bottom line. When assessments are less frequent, greater disparities between the market and tax values of properties develop — some property owners pay less than they should, while other’s pay more.
“It’s about equity fairness,” he said. “Our goal is to level the playing field so everybody is paying their fair share.”
The shorter period also means assessments can be done in-house. The county had previously hired contractors because it was not practical to keep assessors on staff with so many years between assessments, Little said.
The cost of doing two in-house assessments every four years versus hiring a contractor every eight years is an apples-to-oranges comparison, Little said. Prorating a contractor’s fee over eight years is cheaper, but outsourcing two assessments in the same period would be more expensive.
Having Ashe County residents on the payroll instead of bringing in contractors is “a plus,” he said.
It takes a team of three appraisers two years to assess the county’s 39,000 parcels of real property, which are valued at $3.6 billion as of Jan. 1, 2011, he said.
The next assessment will begin in the spring, with new tax values effective Jan. 1, 2015.