P.H. Craig, businessman, appraiser, has strong opinions about former Tax Assessor John Smith.
Craig thinks Orange County botched last year's revaluation and that we botched our story by not saying so. I told him we reported the story fairly: we noted the record number of appeals, the higher than normal percentage of reversals, and the fact that the county can't say how far off those initial assessments were. We also interviewed two residents who were upset with the process, including one who is now taking his appeal to the state.
What Craig was most upset was tax Administrator Jo Roberson's saying the county was, in fact, pleased with the number of people who came forward with information that changed their assessed tax values. He thinks that was pure PR and that we gave her a platform for saying as much.
I wasn't going to win with Craig, but I did follow up on one of his concerns. He thought it was outrageous that the county would hire former assessor Smith as a consultant after overseeing a revaluation that saw 5,000 appeals, about one in every 10 taxable properties in the county.
So I called County Manager Frank Clifton.
He quickly guessed I had spoken with Craig. And he stood by the contract and the revaluation. Smith will be paid $45.82 per hour, up to $46,706 to help the county tax office transition to new appraisal software and to "provide expert testimony" before the county Board of Equalization and Review and/or the state Property Tax Commission, among other tasks. (The expert testimony part also riled another reader, who has a letter coming in Sunday's paper.)
"I've been in three different counties," Clifton said. "The revaluation process is not as simple as some might think." The number of appeals may have been unusual for this county (five times normal, as we reported), Clifton said, but they're not unusual for counies in general, especially during the recession. "I was in Onslow County; we had the same numbers."
And as Roberson said in the article, Clifton said the data support the county's numbers. Average home sales have been coming within spitting distance of the county's assessed values (all right, he didn't say spitting distance). "Everybody wants a higher value," he said, "but not when you apply taxes to it."