Center Argues for Refunds of Illegally Collected Property Taxes in Halifax County

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The Center for Civil Rights continued its longtime efforts to bring justice to the residents of the Brandy Creek/Wallace Fork Road community, appearing before the Halifax County Commissioners to argue for a refund of illegal property taxes collected from this small African American community. Community Inclusion Attorney Fellow Peter Gilbert presented the argument before the county commissioners.

Inclusion Attorney Fellow Peter Gilbert presents the community's case to the commissioners

In 2005, without any advance notice, residents of Brandy Creek/Wallace Fork were legislatively annexed into the City of Roanoke Rapids as part of the plan to make way for the planned development of a theater and entertainment district. As a result of the annexation, taxes in the community immediately went up, as they were now paying city as well as county taxes, even though they received minimal additional services. In the immediate wake of the annexation, a land speculator purchased 32 rental properties in the community from a single owner for approximately $2.8 million. The tenants living in those properties were evicted and the homes demolished, immediately eliminating almost half of the community.

On the heels of this major disruption to the community, in 2007 the county conducted its standard 8 year property tax revaluation. For the Brandy Creek properties, the county only considered the anomalous (and overvalued) single sale of the contiguous parcels, divided the total purchase price by number of individual parcels (32 parcels, approximately $2.8 million, average per parcel price = $89,843), then used that number as the “comparable” data to assess remaining isolated, individual parcels . The county failed to account for the speculative nature of the sale, the greater value of the much larger piece of land, or the fact that some individual parcels from the 32 were later sold at an enormous loss that same year (for $17,500 and $12,500).

The effect on the property taxes in the community was dramatic. Residents experienced increases increase in property taxes ranging from 695% - 1446%, with an average increase of 772%. These illegally calculated values were far in excess of the actual market value of properties in the community, in violation on North Carolina law. Additionally, the illegal valuation methodology created enormous disparities in values between Brandy Creek properties and generally comparable property across the county, which courts have held is prohibited by state law and by the equal protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions.

Property tax values in Brandy Creek/Wallace Fork: 2006 and 2007
Comparison of tax value increases between Brandy Creek and other properties in the county

The Center began working with the Brandy Creek/Wallace Fork community in 2008. Initial efforts were focused on addressing the nuisance impacts of the preliminary development of the entertainment district, then turned to securing deannexation and correcting the illegally inflated tax values. Thanks to the efforts of Senator Jones, and Representatives Angela Bryant and Glen Bradley, and with the support of the Roanoke Rapids City Council, the community was deannexed from Roanoke Rapids in 2011. In addition, the illegally inflated property values have recently been corrected. After several members of the community and the Center appealed the improper valuations, the tax assessor lowered the values back to reasonable levels for the entire community, even those who had not filed an appeal. Despite this success however, residents still paid illegally inflated taxes for 2007, 2008, and 2009, and are now seeking refunds.

Following the Center’s presentation, the commissioners went into closed session to discuss the matter with the county attorney. They tabled further consideration of the matter and, following an opportunity to consult with Roanoke Rapids and Weldon School officials, will reconsider the refunds at their next meeting on January 23rd.

Brandy Creek/Wallace Fork residents wait while the commissioners meet in closed session

More on the commissioners' hearing from the local press.

Posted by Mark Dorosin on Fri. January 6, 2012 10:21 AM
Categories: Community Inclusion, Halifax County, Halifax Taxes
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