Revaluation: The taxman cometh|Part 2

Published 3:06 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

Staff Writer

Considering he works for the tax office, homeowners are surprisingly nice to Ray David Moore. Dogs are too, for that matter.
“He’s somebody you can talk to,” said homeowner Ruby Little.
“It makes a difference,” she added. “It makes a big difference.”
Moore is one of the workers who must visit every home in the county ahead of the coming tax revaluation.
The vast majority of people, such as Little, are friendly, Moore said. She warned Moore about a dog, though the dog ended up not doing anything more than looking bored.
A very small minority can get ornery, but it’s not a big deal, Moore said.
“I do pretty well until (a homeowner) gets to cussing at me,” he said.
Thursday morning in Bayview, east of Bath, no one came even close to cussing at Moore.
Moore was visiting properties to update county records.
Each parcel in the county has a printed card, for a grand total of about 44,000. And each card for an occupied property must be checked against the actual site. The appraisers started more than a year ago, have 6,000 more cards to process and hope to finish later this summer.
Because of the massive amount of work, the county has hired Pearson Appraisal Services of Richmond, Va., a firm that recently helped Hyde County complete a revaluation.
The work along the Bayview waterfront was slow — docks had to be measured, and there were lots of unrecorded bulkheads. Inland, Moore usually can review 50 or 75 properties each day, he said.
Moore was inspecting each property to make sure the information on the card reflected reality. Most of the cards were pretty close. A few needed minor updates — a roof changed from shingles to tin, or a bulkhead hadn’t been recorded. A few needed more revision — one card recorded the same deck twice, for example.
And there was one house Moore just couldn’t find. After scratching his head and peering at a map, he eventually talked to neighbor Richard Haar, who was out mowing his lawn. Haar confirmed Moore’s suspicion that the house had been demolished after it was damaged in a storm.
“We’re trying our very best to make sure that what’s on that card when I leave the property is what’s there,” Moore said.
Moore also takes a picture of each house for the county’s records. No one minds, he said.
“Sometimes old ladies want to be in the picture,” he said.
Moore said some skeptics ask if he’s certified. He is, which means he heads to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government once every two years, he said.
Once the property cards are updated, tax officials use a schedule of values — so much for a square foot of land in town, so much for a foot of river frontage, etc. — to figure out how much each property is worth.
The schedule of values is based, in part, on recent real estate sales. Sales are slower now than two years ago, but there are enough coming in for comparisons, Moore said.
“Appraisers then adjust the base rate up or down based on the condition of an individual structure. For example, a wooden storage building in bad repair would not be valued as highly as a brick storage building in good repair,” said Bobby Parker, county tax assessor. “Every piece of property starts with a base rate. That rate gets adjusted up or down based on the quality of the construction.”
Then officials go out and spot check their work, Moore said.
But that value isn’t the only factor driving the tax bills property owners receive. The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will set the rate at which the values are taxed.
Haar, a retired accountant, said he didn’t mind having his property updated in county records, as long as the new value is taxed at a fair rate.
But county officials have said in the past that, while the tax rate is likely to go down if property values go up, it’s not likely to go down far enough to actually cut people’s tax bills. That’s because the county has to tax everything — cars, boat lifts, houses, PCS Phosphate’s industrial machinery — at one uniform rate.
“I don’t care if they triple the value, as long as they cut that rate,” Haar said.
Betty Gray contributed reporting to this article.