By Susan Dickson
CARRBORO â€“ After several years of a down economy, relatively stable home prices in Orange County started decreasing in 2011, county Tax Assessor Jenkins Crayton told members of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.
Crayton gave a report to the board on the countyâ€™s upcoming January 2013 property revaluation. According to Crayton, because the number of property sales has sharply decreased in the past few years â€“ down to 969 in 2011 from more than 2,000 in 2007 â€“ the property revaluation will be more difficult, since assessed values are based on sales of comparable properties.
â€œSales are the lifeblood of a revaluation,â€ he said. â€œWe canâ€™t tell what the market is saying if itâ€™s being quiet.â€
â€œFrankly, there are just no sales at all in many neighborhoods,â€ Crayton added.
Overall, Crayton said the county has estimated that property values have dropped since the revaluation such that assessed values are, on average, about 5 percent higher than market values.
The state requires counties to conduct property revaluations at a minimum of once every eight years, or within a shorter timeframe if sales show that most transactions are in excess of or below 15 percent of the tax valuation. Because assessed values are only 5 percent in excess of market values, the county could choose to delay the revaluation until as late as 2017.
In 2010, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to maintain the countyâ€™s four-year property revaluation schedule, citing the need for transparency in the process. The board had considered delaying the next revaluation for two years given the relatively flat property values in the county at the time and the $200,000-plus cost of a revaluation.
Until 1993, the county used a six-year revaluation cycle but then moved to a four-year cycle. With the 2009 revaluation, officials heard strong opinions about assessed values, which some property owners said were unfairly high.
Because assessed values are likely to decrease in the revaluation, the county and its municipalities would have to approve a tax increase in order to maintain current funding levels, Crayton said.
For Carrboro â€“ where values have been more stable than in the rest of the county â€“ the revaluation could cause a drop in property tax revenue of about $590,000, meaning that the board would need to approve a 5.3 percent tax increase â€“ 3.1 cents per $100 of property valuation â€“ to stay revenue-neutral.
Chapel Hill would need an 8.3 percent tax increase to maintain its property tax funding levels, while Orange County would need a 7.7 percent increase.
Board of aldermen member Sammy Slade questioned why the county would not choose to delay the revaluation given the low number of sales and the assessed value within the stateâ€™s requirements.
Crayton said a delay could draw criticism from county residents, given that many property owners felt the 2009 assessed values were too high.
In other action Tuesday night, the board heard a report on greenhouse gas emissions from Town of Carrboro municipal operations and options for reduction. The townâ€™s single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions are its streetlights, followed by police fuel, public works fuel, powering the Carrboro Century Center and powering Fire Station #1.
Board members said they would like to explore ways to reduce the energy used by streetlights through possible negotiations with Duke Energy, as well as other ways to reduce the townâ€™s overall greenhouse gas emissions.