SoCo won’t reassess real estate until 2012

Published 8:20 am Friday, February 5, 2010

COURTLAND—Real estate values seem to be holding steady, according to the appraiser conducing the general reassessments in Franklin and Isle of Wight County, but what about Southampton County?

Unlike Franklin and Isle of Wight County, which conduct reassessments in two-year cycles, Southampton County performs a general reassessment of real estate every six years.

“The last reassessment in Southampton County was completed in 2006, meaning that assessed values have remained constant since that time, with the exception of new construction,” Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson wrote in an e-mail.

While some residents may be concerned about their real property’s assessed value, Johnson said that real estate values and real estate tax rates “typically work conversely,” meaning higher values lead to tax rate decreases and lower values can lead to higher tax rates to make up the lost revenue.

He said that the county’s real estate tax rate decreased in 2001 and 2007, because those years followed reassessment years when values increased countywide. The rate currently stands at 72 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Dallas Jones, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, said that the board is aware of concerns about real estate values, but will wait until 2012 when the cycle rolls around to do another reassessment.

“It costs money to do a reassessment, and right now we’ve got a whole lot of irons in the fire and we’re not ready to do that right now,” he said. “We know that the property values have come down … but our costs to do a new reassessment haven’t come down, that’s going to remain the same, if not more.”

Jones said the board has been looking into doing reassessments in shorter intervals, but no decisions have been made at this point.

The board has no authority over property values. A licensed appraiser is required and values must be based on current market conditions. The board can, however, adjust the tax rate on an annual basis.

If the 2012 reassessment reflects a decrease in overall assessed value of real property countywide, Johnson said the board would have the following primary options:

Reduce expenses to compensate for the loss in revenue

Increase the tax rate, so that the loss of assessed value remains revenue-neutral,

Some combination of those two or

Identify other revenue sources.

Johnson said the county has implemented “a number of alternative revenue sources” in recent years, including service fees for emergency ambulance transport, a tax on transient occupancy and increased fees associated with new construction.

The Board of Supervisors is also considering levying a meals tax. County voters approved a referendum in November that allows the board to impose the tax on prepared food and beverages.

Johnson said that the county has also provided significant tax relief to “qualified” real property owners in recent years — the land-use assessment program for agricultural and silvicultural property, and the tax exemption program for elderly and handicapped residents.

“A substantial number of property owners have taken advantage of these programs,” he said.