Resident Joshua McLamb, whose family has farmed in northern Sampson for years, filed an appeal of the present use value schedule adopted by the Board of Commissioners on Nov. 15. The Property Tax Commission met to rule on the appeal Jan. 27. County manager Ed Causey reported on the ruling and the commission’s comments this week.
“They upheld values that had been in a 3-2 vote,” said Causey noted during a commissioners meeting Monday night. The ruling was to be signed and made official this week. After that, McLamb has 30 days to appeal that decision further, to the N.C. Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the county is moving forward, the county manager said.
“We do not have any choice but to go forward with the revaluation notices,” said Causey.
In the split vote by the Property Tax Commission, he said there was also a “mild admonishment” to the county to seek out ways to prevent disputes by updating mapping software.
“They said they would like us to look at our software,” said Causey, “to see if there are adjustments that can be made by the next revaluation, then to update the software. Once we get through the current process, we will try to get a handle on what it would cost to update the software.”
Causey said he has talked several times with tax administrator Glenn Spell and information technology director Chris Rainer about the issue. The board has previously discussed updating the GIS software. Causey and finance officer David Clack have talked about setting aside one-eighth of the cost on an annual basis before the next revaluation to make the necessary update.
Sampson County conducts a countywide property revaluation at least every eight years, with the goal of determining the fair market value for each parcel of property in the county so the tax burden can be distributed in a fair manner.
“I would be hesitant to make a recommendation,” said Causey, noting the extended amount of time out from the next revaluation.
“Certainly we need to be mindful of the system, and make improvements to the system that are needed,” said Causey. “There was a similar issue raised eight years ago. The Property Tax Commission noted this was the second appeal. They told us to do whatever was reasonable or possible within the realm of what we can afford to avoid that in the future.”
In November, using a slightly-modified state formula, the Board of Commissioners adopted present use values relying heavily on cash rents for specific types of land. The amount of money a landowner receives for an acre of land is a large factor in coming to the value of that land.
At that Nov. 15 meeting, commissioners voted that Sampson’s upper coastal farmland, where the soil is considered to be better, be valued at $657 per acre and the lower coastal tip be valued at $630 per acre. The board voted 4-1, with Commissioner Billy Lockamy casting the dissenting vote. Lockamy touted the use of individual soil types in making appraisals.
Joshua McLamb agreed.
McLamb said the most equitable procedure would be to break down each of the county’s 8,000 agricultural parcels, classifying and separating each by the number of acres of every soil type and classification — instead of a blanket value for the parcel — so that unfarmable acreage would not be valued higher than it should be.
“Soil types is how it needs to go,” said McLamb. “Forget the cash rents, it’s an erroneous number.”
Spell saidtax notices are tentatively set to be sent in March. If citizens are not satisfied, they can raise concerns during a subsequent hearing process in front of the Board of Equalization and Review. The Board of Equalization and Review, charged with hearing appeals of property taxation, has the authority to increase or reduce property values on its own motion.
In Sampson County, the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Equalization and Review is one and the same.
The taxpayer will be required to provide specific information as to why the tax relief should be granted. Appeals of the rulings of the Board of Equalization and Review must be made to the State Property Tax Commission.
“Being that it is a revaluation year, I suggest we set more dates,” said Spell. “We met 12 times in 2003. I’m going to suggest nine dates.”
The nine dates, not yet set, are expected to be held at the end of April and beginning of May. On those days, the board would hear appeals by appointment.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 121, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.