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Wednesday, 25 November 2009 15:01

With real estate market still in flux, Macon postpones property reappraisal

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Macon County has joined a growing trend in deciding to postpone its property revaluation process for two years.

The county was due for revaluation next year, but based on the testimony of its tax administrator, Richard Lightner, the board of commissioners voted unanimously to postpone the reval until 2013.

“We have to give the market more time to stabilize so we can determine where the market actually is,” Lightner said.

In 1998 the county adopted a four-year revaluation cycle to keep up with rapidly moving property values during a period when real estate values were rising 10 to 15 percent each year.

Lightner argued that sluggish real estate sales since 2007 didn’t provide an adequate benchmark to undertake an accurate property assessment right now.

“Based on the numbers and the trends in the market right now, I would suggest we not do a re-assessment until 2013,” Lightner said. “The market’s just not right now. There’s a lot of stuff listed, but sales are slow.”

Macon County Manager Jack Horton agreed with Lightner’s assessment of the situation.

“I think there’s not enough sales between last year and this year in order to build a schedule of values,” Horton said.

Lightner believes a revaluation this year would result in skewed assessed values that could increase the number of tax appeals and unfairly burden residential property taxpayers.

Lightner said the county went through contentious revaluations in 1975 and 1983, when property values jumped dramatically, and he suggested reassessing values this year could lead to a heated review season for a different reason.

Essentially, he said, a revaluation now would reflect downward movement in the commercial market and stable values in the residential market, which would shift the property tax burden further onto residential taxpayers, a less than ideal outcome at a time when the county’s property taxpayers are already stretched to their limits.

Lightner explained that property values around the county are only slightly higher on average than the county’s assessed values.

He added that the 2009 sales ratio, which measures the relation between the county’s appraised value and the selling price, is still at over 97 percent, within the statistical error margin.

When the ratio drops below 90 percent, utility companies are eligible for tax breaks that can cost the county big money, but Lightner said with the market slow, there is nothing to worry about on that front.

The county has carried out its revaluation process in-house since 1998 in a move to cut costs. Haywood voted earlier this year to postpone its revaluation process, also citing similar reasons. Swain, meanwhile, had undertaken a countywide reappraisal but voted not to enact it during the recession, deciding to wait another four years instead.

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