Forsyth tax review board adjusts values in second Winston-Salem neighborhood

A Forsyth County board tasked with hearing appeals to property tax valuations approved mass changes to a second neighborhood on Friday before officially adjourning.

The board of equalization and review unanimously approved a recommendation by the tax office to make upwards adjustments to values in Castleshire, an affluent African-American neighborhood adjacent to Winston Lake Golf Course in a sequel to a similar decision last week to make blanket changes in Monticello Park.

The neighborhood stood out because there were no sales from 2009 onward that assessors could use to set values. Tax Assessor John Burgiss said staff decided to make an adjustment across the neighborhood based on changes approved in individual appeals. Staff was challenged by the fact that there are few similar properties in adjacent neighborhood and had to select comparable sales from across the county.

"This represents an extreme degree of difficulty," Burgiss said. "I was searching countywide, which is something we would normally not want to do. I looked at the comps and then we looked at the result of the appeals. Based on that, we made the decision to start from scratch."

The adjustment in Castleshire brings the total amount of value restored through blanket changes to $3.7 million, in addition to almost $1 million from individual appeals by property owners across the east side of Winston-Salem.

The neighborhood is home to several prominent Winston-Salem citizens, including Contract Office Furnishings owner Thomas Trollinger and Chronicle publisher Ernest H. Pitt.

The mass change approved by the board restored $1.2 million in valuation in aggregate to 110 properties in Castleshire, increasing their values by an average of 6.9 percent. The initial revaluation knocked off an average of 21.2 percent of values in the neighborhood, with the approved changes blunting the reduction to 17.3 percent. In contrast, many neighborhoods on the east side and parts of the south side of Winston-Salem lost more than 50 percent of value, and some, such as Castle Heights, hemorrhaged by as much as 75 percent.

Monticello Park, the first neighborhood subject to mass adjustment by the board, is also an upscale black community on the east side, but comparisons end there. Properties in Monticello Park lost 70 percent of value on average in the initial reappraisal. The board's vote to implement mass changes in part of the neighborhood restored $2.5 million in value and whittled the loss experienced by the affected properties down from 46.6 percent to 14.9 percent.

The mass changes in Castleshire did not affect one influential resident, Forsyth County Commissioner Walter Marshall, who represents District A. His home on Kittering Lane dropped in value from $220,800 in 2009 to $200,800 in 2013.

Community leaders from across Winston-Salem who attended the hearing expressed mixed feelings about the board's action.

Carolyn Highsmith, president of the Konnoak Hills Community Association, said she was disappointed that the board did not make any adjustments in a section of her neighborhood where staff acknowledged that a flawed sales comp potentially caused upwards of 100 properties to be undervalued my more than 5 percent.

A racially diverse and mixed income area, the Konnoak Hills area is located on the south side of the city. Highsmith worked with the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity to help property owners file appeals both to bring relief on an individual basis and encourage the board to take a second look and consider mass changes. Burgiss said the tax office received more than 1,500 appeals in the last few days.

Highsmith said Vice Chair David Shaw did not respond to an e-mailed request for the board to correct values in the affected section of her neighborhood, identified by the tax office as Anderleigh.

"I think the issue is still out there," she said. "They addressed it as minimally as they had to. They have done their job according to the statute, but is what benefits the community the most? I don't think so.

"They've built in the inequity because they changed the highest valued neighborhoods," Highsmith added. "The most motivated neighborhoods appeal. What about the neighborhoods where people didn't get their appeals in because they were taking care of someone who was sick or there was a death in the family? Or they're just trying to get by and they're too busy making ends meet to get their appeal in?"

Burgiss said notices of adjustments were not sent out to Monticello Park residents until Wednesday and that he expects some push-back. Affected property owners will have 15 days from the time they receive their new notices to appeal.

Burgiss also said the tax office received a request from the West Salem Neighborhood Association to consider making global changes to values in the neighborhood, but after reviewing staff's methodology he did not think any changes were warranted.

Friday marked the statutory deadline for mass changes. The board will continue to meet to hear individual appeals.

"Today's the day we need to all feel comfortable," Shaw remarked before accepting a motion to adjourn.

The board also voted in a unanimous decision to allow board member William V. White to bring a report for consideration that would be submitted to the Forsyth County Commission.

"It would talk about the assessment process in a catastrophically changing market," White said. "It would talk about briefly the assessor's outreach efforts during the informal appeals, including public meetings. It would summarize very briefly some of the public concerns. It would talk about in summary fashion some of the neighborhoods that had areas of concern, the county assessor's recommendation that two of those areas be changed, talk about the appeal process, and it would conclude the finding of fact that we followed the statutory provisions all the way through and that mass changes otherwise would have been in violation [of state statute], and basically state that we believe the assessor's office did a good job."

Burgiss said the 2013 reappraisal has been challenging for citizens, staff and the board alike.

"So I appreciate your interest in and looking into what the reappraisal was all about and trying to help us make sure that we have equitable values for all our citizens," he told board members. "I realize that this puts you in a more unique position than has been exercised in the past."

The 2013 Forysth County tax revaluation was the subject of a two-part investigative report published jointly by YES! Weekly and Camel City Dispatch.

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