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Property tax panel reverses itself on off-site meeting in community

by Jordan Green

jordan@yesweekly.com

Avolunteer board appointed to hear appeals to property tax valuations in Forsyth County reversed position last week when members said they are no longer interested in scheduling a meeting in the community to hear directly from residents in neighborhoods affected by plunging home values.

The decision angered Joycelyn Johnson, a Skyland Park resident and community leader who is running for Winston-Salem City Council. Johnson had also asked members of the Forsyth County Board of Equalization and Review to personally visit homes in affected neighborhoods that have lost as much as 70 percent of their appraised value to see firsthand their quality of upkeep.

Johnson and Tax Assessor John Burgiss engaged in a heated discussion about economic-functional obsolescence, an instrument the appraisers in the tax office use to reconcile a cost-based assessment of what properties are worth with trends indicated by market sales in the area.

“That’s the institutional problem you have — is you have neighborhoods with economic-functional obsolescence of 75 percent. When you tell me my home is only 25 percent functional, you’re devaluing my neighborhood. I doubt very seriously that any of you have. I doubt very seriously that any of you lost more than 50 percent of the value of your house.”

Johnson was one of only three members of the public who attended the meeting. Since the board convened in early May, its meetings have been poorly attended, in contrast to mass meetings held in churches by the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity, the Rev. Paul Lowe and Winston-Salem Councilman Derwin Montgomery in March when residents first received notification of their assessments.

“System-wide you have certain neigh borhoods where you had no sales, or you had foreclosures, or you had few sales nearby,” said Carolyn Highsmith, president of the Konnoak Hills Community Association. “It feels like you’re penalizing 115 or 215 properties in an entire neighborhood. I think the data points are too small for the samples to devalue hundreds of parcels.”

Chairman Richard N. Davis, who has been the most vocal advocate for addressing neighborhood-wide complaints on the board, was not present for the meeting. Board member Marybeth Abdow was also absent.

Vice Chairman David Shaw said he believes the best way to address any perceived problems is to submit evidence of any errors through individual appeals.

Burgiss said the tax department has received no information to indicate any “widespread data problems.” He added after the meeting that the tax department is still reviewing sales in 14 neighborhoods that have been subject to significant complaints to see if blanket changes are warranted.

The board has scheduled two additional meetings, on June 13 and June 20, before it is statutorily required to make any blanket changes to neighborhood valuations on June 28. On Thursday, June 13, the board will begin hearing individual appeals from property owners in Monticello Park and other neighborhoods under scrutiny because of severe reductions in values.

Burgiss said that as of last week, the tax department has received 46 appeals from the 14 neighborhoods targeted for extra scrutiny.

The number is likely to rise over the next couple weeks. Highsmith is working with the social justice committee of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity to organize workshops to help homeowners fill out appeals if they feel that their properties have not been accurately assessed. Workshops are scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and June 10 from 9 a.m. to noon at Carver School Road Branch Library, Malloy/Jordan East Winston Library and Central Public Library.

WANNA go?

The Forsyth County Board of Equalization and Review meets on Thursday at 3 p.m. in the Board of Equalization and Review Room on the first floor of the Forsyth County Government Center, located at 201 N. Chestnut St. in Winston-Salem.

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