From Yes!Weekly's blog post on the proposed bond referendum that would pay for streetcars in Winston-Salem among other things:
Budget challenges faced by the city include an anticipated 11-percent decrease to the property tax base with revaluation next year, the loss of federal stimulus dollars for police salaries, increased fuel costs, and plans for the city to kick in more for employee salaries and healthcare benefits.
For all of these reasons, City Manager Lee Garrity told the city council’s finance committee this evening that he is recommending that there be no bond referendum this year.
“The latest numbers for the first quarter of this calendar year are very concerning,” he said. “Sales of houses are up, as you may have read, but the price versus assessed value is down. A house in Forsyth County right now on average is selling for 11 percent below tax value. What that means for us going into the year after next with the budget is pretty significant.” (Emphasis mine).
The last time we went through a revaluation in Forsyth we were in the midst of the financial meltdown and at the time I though revaluations would not accurately reflect the true value of a property because there hadn't been time for the sales comps to have an impact on the system. Literally nothing was selling at the time so the comps were all pre-meltdown, and thus I felt they were artificially inflated. Those comps are now in the system and as the city manager pointed out this revaluation is going to show a significant drop in values, which means that tax rates will be raised significantly.
Here's the funny thing – the size of the check each property owner will be sending is likely to be close to the same amount they sent this year. That's because from the city/county's perspective they need a certain amount of revenue to make their budget (note I'm not saying whether or not the budget itself is a good thing), so when property values go up the city council or county commission will leave the rate flat or even reduce it so they can say they reduced taxes. Obviously they didn't really reduce the dollars, just the tax rate. Nice, huh? When property values go down they have to raise the tax rate, but in reality the actual tax dollars isn't much at all compared to the previous budget year. That's when you'll hear the council members and commissioners talking about how they were able to minimize the tax dollars each property owner had to send them, not the increase in the tax rate. Actually, if you read the Yes! Weekly post you'll see that they're already doing this and who can blame them?
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think the best way to do this is having an annual revaluation. It's the fairest system because it more accurately reflects property values at any given time, prevents property owners from seeing 10-20% changes in their property values all at once, and makes budgeting for the city and county a little steadier.