By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Data entry errors made by a company assisting with the county property revaluation resulted in some Hoke property owners receiving letters with a wrong value for their property, according to county officials.
Mandi Davis, Hoke County tax assessor, explained in an email last week that the data entry errors happened in the computer system used for the revaluation appraisal.
“Some land rate values were keyed in wrong in our CAMA system, (Computer-Assisted Mass Appraisal System) by Pearsons Appraisal company based on the Schedule of Values they composed at the beginning of revaluation,” Davis wrote.
The errors appear to have left off a number at the end of the affected entries, resulting in some properties being valued far below what they were actually assessed for tax levy purposes. In a case where the land rate should have been $12,000, it was entered as $1,200, resulting in accidental under-valuation, Davis gave as an example.
About 500 parcels of property out of about 27,000 to 28,000 properties in Hoke County were found to have been affected by the error, officials said.
Once the revaluation team realized the error, they corrected the values, Davis said. The letters with the incorrect assessment values were sent out as of January 25. The Hoke County Tax Assessor department sent out a notice of correction to the affected property owners, mailed out February 3.
Bryan Salter of Pearsons Appraisal Company appeared before the Hoke County Board of Commissioners Monday to explain in greater detail what happened with the error. Not every property in the neighborhoods involved were affected, he said.
The errors would have resulted in affected property owners getting much smaller tax bills this summer, based on the incorrect, lower value placed on their properties. Salter offered an apology for the data entry errors that caused the situation.
“I certainly don’t want the county to lose a lot of money,” he said. “…I apologize for it. It happened, it’s done, and we’re just trying to correct it.”
Commission Chairman Allen Thomas explained the situation for those present at the meeting or watching the livestream from home.
“There were some errors made where we sent out an appraised value for the people to see while we do our revaluation. Then a couple weeks later they received an updated letter that said the first values you received were wrong and not only were they wrong, the value of your properties increased substantially, generally,” Thomas said.
The chairman raised concerns that the error not only affected hundreds of Hoke County citizens, but has made some unaffected property owners wonder if their valuation was also wrong.
“Our whole system in government depends on trust, and when people begin to have a point where they don’t trust our valuations and they feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, it causes an issue where it’s not you who’s being blamed, it’s us, it’s these five members up here who have absolutely no expertise in what you do,” Thomas said. “We appreciate what you do, but the buck stops with us. At the end of the day, we’re going to answer to the people. And so what we have, and I’m pretty sure you’re not surprised, is there are people who are not a part of these neighborhoods that you’re talking about, who are also saying that you got theirs wrong as well.”
Thomas asked Salter if he could offer assurance that the company had found all the problems and corrected them. Salter responded that he “wouldn’t bet (his) life on it, but I certainly hope so.”
During the meeting, Thomas called for the county to conduct an audit of the revaluation. He further addressed the situation Tuesday, saying that as far as the county can tell, all of the errors involved undervaluing properties, not overvaluing them.
“The errors found showed that some properties were undervalued during the revaluation. To date, we have found no evidence that showed that errors were made to overvalue properties,” he said in a statement.
The chairman also followed up on his comments from Monday, again saying the county will conduct an audit of the revaluation to double-check that there were no other errors made. He additionally touched on the board’s plan to consider cutting the county’s property tax rate during upcoming budget talks.
“We will be conducting an audit to ensure the fair across the board application of valuation. We will look at possibly cutting the property tax rate during the budget process in June to reduce the impact of the state mandated evaluation process on our residents,” Thomas said.
Property owners have the option to contest their property valuation by going before the Board of Equalization and Review. More information is located on the tax valuation letters sent out earlier this year.