Ad hoc committee blasted in report

Mar. 15, 2013 @ 06:00 AM

A citizen committee created in 2011 to look into the Rutherford County Tax Department drew heat from a recent report.

The report, conducted by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners called the ad hoc committee "unnecessary" and said that the Rutherford County Commission had "no statutory authority" to circumvent statutes regarding the responsibilities of the county assessor or tax collector.

In 2011, commissioners created the committee — made up of five private citizens, Omer Causey, Duncan Edwards, Carl Parton, Boyce Abernathy and Tom Helton — to review policies and procedures of tax appraisal and assessment in the county.

"The ultimate goal, in my mind, was that the Tax Department was always a source of controversy," said Commissioner Bo Richard. "We were trying to seek out solutions on how to go about solving some of the potential problems."

The report indicated that the county commission had a history of creating these committees to look into the tax department.

"This practice is disruptive, unprofessional and should be immediately discontinued," the report said.

In 1984, commissioners established a similar committee that reviewed and made recommendations regarding the schedule of land values. Subsequently, that committee recommended lowering land valuation rates and square-foot rates for replacement. The report said that resulted in fewer appeals from property owners.

"However, the owners of some of the largest business-personal property accounts and the public service companies challenged the county on the ground of equity," the report said.

This resulted in the county conducting another general reappraisal and bringing real property valuations to market value.

The 2011 committee was charged with looking into the policies and procedures utilized by the tax department.

The report stated that the committee directed the tax administrator, county manager and county attorney to "cooperate with the committee in all subjects of inquiry relating to appraisal and assessment of real property in the County." The report concluded that this directive "superseded the statutory duties granted by the North Carolina General Assembly to each individual office ..."

"At the time, we were just looking to get input from the citizens," said Commissioner Bill Eckler, the commission chairman at the time. "Some of the citizens that were on this were ones that had questions about the Tax Department."

When asked if he thought it was a good idea to place those individuals on a committee to investigate the tax department, Eckler said "probably not."

Another question raised was why the Commission did not conduct an investigation themselves or contact the North Carolina Department of Revenue to assist.

"That might have made the situation worse," Richard said. "If I was an employee in the Tax Department and I had to sit and meet with the County Commission, I would have been scared."

But the report said that the creation of these ad hoc committees "is disruptive, unprofessional, and should be immediately discontinued." The report went on to say: "It has encouraged what can only be described as active micro-management by the citizens committee, the results of which have ultimately been more damaging than beneficial to the property owners in Rutherford County."

"I would say in the end that the new report says that these committees were the wrong thing to do," Eckler said. "At the time, we thought that it was the right thing but history may prove otherwise."

Eckler said that the decision to create the committee would be "a hard decision to repeat" and that he doubts he would do it again.

"We were, at the time, very new at what we were doing," Eckler said.