Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reform North Carolina Property Tax Law

A new-home subdivision in your rural neighborhood may not directly impact your quality of life, but long-term, the ripples of high-$$ development may end up driving you off your patch of mountain land. Why? Property taxes.

The notorious and inevitable "re-vals" that come now every four years in Watauga County and are mandated by state law to come at least every eight years across the state can penalize YOU for high-dollar developments on your neighbors' property. The incredible prices commanded for lots and homes in Laurelmor, for example, are driving up everyone's property valuation, which in turn drives up everyone's tax bills, which in turn makes it more likely that more mountain landowners -- some of them inheritors of generations' worth of family history on the land -- will be forced to sell out to more and more Laurelmors.

We hear about property tax laws in other states that do not permit revals of property as long as the land remains unsold. Selling the property triggers the reval. Imagine that! Sitting on a piece of your family's history and not suffering from the escalation of property taxes around you, simply because you refuse to sell! On the face of it, such laws would seem to discourage the loss of agricultural land and the sprawl of urban development.

In North Carolina, one significant step toward reforming at least some property tax law was taken in the state House in 2007: HB1889, which goes under the title of a wildlife conservation bill. The N.C. House passed it 93-22. The N.C. Senate won't take it up until the short session in 2008.

HB1889 would reform some property tax incentives to encourage conservation of land. Presently, a landowner involved in commercial logging or other commercial agriculture gets a lower tax rate than a landowner who wants to actively manage his/her forests and open farmland for wildlife conservation or water quality.

HB1889 would be a valuable reform. But something more sweeping needs to be done to reform N.C.'s antiquated property tax system that unfairly burdens traditional landowners and penalizes them disproportionately for the fortunes the big developers are raking in.

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