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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

As Brunswick home sale prices skyrocket over three years, 2023 tax revaluation raises concerns

Brunswick County’s Sandifer Administration Building. (Courtesy Brunswick County)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Brunswick County is closing in on a revaluation that could add billions to the county tax base. Some locals are concerned about the impact on how much they pay.

State law requires counties perform property revaluations every eight years, though Brunswick County policy is to reappraise properties every four. A revaluation process would be triggered if sale values increased or decreased by 15% regardless.

READ MORE: City proposes increased property taxes to support staff raises

The county’s current tax base, taking into account all real estate and vehicles, is $31.7 billion this fiscal year. 

Brunswick County Tax Administrator Jeff Niebauer told Port City Daily work on the revaluation is ongoing through the end of the year, wrapping Jan. 1. He could not offer an estimate on what the tax base would be but said his office’s work on the project will stretch through January as it handles appeals, applications for exemptions and finalizes the base to be used in the budgeting process.

However, Niebauer did show the county board of commissioners some statistics on recent increases on home values during a Dec. 5 meeting. He noted the average sale price of a single family home in Brunswick County increased from $283,000 in 2019 to $420,000 in 2022, and the average market value sits at $276,000. As of Nov. 1 the tax office calculated the combined value of real estate in Brunswick County increased by 55.15%. 

Three areas experienced increases north of 80%:

  • Oak Island: 85.01%
  • Caswell Beach: 84.17%
  • Northwest: 88.03%

Varnamtown, located north of Holden Beach, had the lowest increase of any municipality in that timeframe, at 40.21%. Leland, the county’s largest town, saw a 52.49% increase.

Niebauer said those increases are not final and have changed since they were calculated in November.

“Depending on market conditions and recent sales in a given neighborhood, assessed value may increase, decrease or remain the same,” Niebauer wrote to PCD in an email. 

Niebauer noted the real estate increases are also the result of new developments coming onto vacant land increasing values of individual parcels significantly. The increases also include exempt properties, such as government facilities like the county administration complex in Bolivia.

“We still have to place its value, so that value is included in that report,” Niebauer said. “However, it’s not going to generate any taxes.”

The increase also includes properties that will receive tax breaks, like those owned by seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.

County commissioners and municipal governments will help determine the impact, by setting tax rates for next fiscal year. If the taxable base increases, for example, they could lower taxes to maintain similar budgets. Though, it may not mean less a tax burden for a property owner whose value increased significantly.

At a meeting earlier in the month in Leland, Mayor Brenda Bozeman said she has no idea how the town will handle the revaluation until it gets the final figure from the county and holds its budget workshop in February.

PCD reached out to the Brunswick County Commissioners to gauge their opinions on handling the tax rate after revaluations come through. None responded.

The county’s property tax rate is 0.4850 and has remained the same since 2015, when it raised from 0.4425. The rate has fluctuated through revaluations over the years. It was at a high point of 0.5925 in 2001 and 2002.

Brunswick’s tax rate is above New Hanover’s 0.4550 rate and well below Pender’s 0.6450.

At several recent commissioners meetings, locals spoke out during public comment periods to request the commissioners adjust the tax rate to be revenue neutral after the revaluation is completed. Many comments were met with applause.

PCD asked for opinions from locals on Friends of Brunswick County, a community Facebook group with 12,000 members. A recurring concern was the revaluation’s timing coinciding with a historic spike in prices and home sales across the country.

“My fear is they will have assessed on the short, yet massive overinflation of real estate,” one resident wrote in a comment. “So if a house was assessed at 100k in 2018, it will now be assessed at 400k just because of the ludicrous price increases. That will drive many deeper into financial despair.”

Art Dornfield, a resident who heavily attends county meetings, budget workshops and ran unsuccessfully against commissioner Marty Cook in this year’s Republican primary, expressed the same concerns.

“[T]he problem that comes in is, and this is nothing against the current cast of commissioners, they’ll tell you that they want to stay revenue-neutral, but revenue-neutral does not mean your taxes are not going to go up,” Dornfield said.

Dornfield pointed out local officials like to tout Brunswick as one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. The county added about 7,000 residents in 2021; Leland alone grew by about 1,700 people.

“That’s terrific,” he said. “If that many people are coming here, you should have a larger tax base, so with more people paying taxes we shouldn’t have an increase. If anything, it would be really nice if you gave us a tax break.”

Niebauer said residents should not try to read into — or make calculations — on what will happen to their taxes based on value estimates, mainly because those figures have limitations, take more property than the county actually taxes into account and do not tell the story for individual parcels.

After the revaluation comes through, residents can challenge their new property values based solely on if they do not align with similar properties as of Jan. 1. An increase or decrease in value is not grounds for appeal.

Residents can expect to receive property tax notices in early January.

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