Equalization Board rolls back assessments

Published 11:01 am Wednesday, December 19, 2018

At the tail end of Monday’s meeting of Southampton Supervisors, the county administrator Mike Johnson announced that on Dec. 12, the Board of Equalization unanimously voted to roll back the recent assessments to 2017 values.

Johnson reported that while he awaiting a more detailed report, Commissioner of Revenue Amy Carr had said that revision will result in a budget shortfall of approximately $700,000 in real property tax revenues in fiscal year 2019.

In order to make up for that deficit, he said, the board will have to take any of the following measures:

• Find surplus revenue from other sources [such as raising taxes]

• Decrease expenditures

• Tap into unappropriated funds, which is like the county’s savings.

“This is serious, but not catastrophic,” said Johnson. “It will be a challenge for you in fiscal year 2020 [which begins on July 1 next year.]

No action was taken by the Supervisors because they do not have authority of the Equalization Board.

Asked about refunds, Johnson said that property owners who have paid in full will get them, but didn’t know when.

This past summer, many residents expressed their shock and displeasure of new land use assessments. In a meeting on Aug. 27, Carr told the board and the audience that all property assessments are mandated by state code and that real estate be evaluated at fair market value.

John Rawls Sr., chairman of the Equalization Board, said then that he had met many times with land owners about the new assessments. Rawls also said he spoke with the attorney firm of Hunt and Williams, which he said told him that the BOE could make adjustments in land use evaluations.

“No one has yet approached me about drastic move,” said Rawls. “I feel I was blindsided and that the BOE should reconvene.”

So it did.

That assessment, not incidentally, was the first since 2012 — state code allows for these evaluations to be done every six years. The next will be in 2024.

Joe Vick, who at the meeting also decried the new assessments, said it was clear to him that somehow the supervisors did not know the land use rate had changed.

“Was that fair,” he asked them during the citizens comment period. “Why didn’t our supervisors know our land use rate would change? Who knew and when did you know? I, for one, am losing confidence in my board of supervisors.”

On Tuesday he said, “I wish things had been done properly to begin with, and we wouldn’t have had to worry about it.”

If there is any consolation to be found in that announcement about the shortfall, it is that the county will be getting some more money from another source.

Much earlier in the meeting, though, the board announced action was taken in closed session regarding the Atlantic Coast pipeline. In fiscal year 2018, the county got $95,113 for an easement in the Kingsdale area. This fiscal year, the amount was $106,250 for where the pipeline will come across the Turner Tract near Enviva. The original easement is being modified to be made wider. After the negotiating law firm of Kaufman and Canoles receives its commission, the county will get $37,500.

The supervisors present — Carl Faison was absent that evening — unanimously approved this action.