Friends leader appointed to state tax board

Dec. 25, 2013 @ 01:14 PM

Gov. Pat McCrory has appointed the leader of the Friends of Durham to a state board that helps settle disputes over the tax value of property.

David A. Smith began serving on the State Property Tax Commission in October. The governor’s aides, however, only announced the appointment this month.

Smith is a commercial real-estate appraiser and said he was recruited for the post by a mutual friend of his and McCrory’s who lives in Wilmington.

Smith said it’s also “helpful” in his new role to have experience with the court-like, “quasi-judicial” procedures boards like the tax commission use to gather and weigh evidence.

He has served on Durham’s Board of Adjustment, which rules on certain type of land-use permits and helps settle the interpretation of local zoning rules.

And he’s been a member of the county’s Board of Equalization and Review, which, like the State Property Tax Commission, is part of the appeals chain in tax-value disputes.

Property owners who disagree with the value that county tax offices place on their holdings can first ask questions of the tax office staff. If they remain unsatisfied, they can file an appeal with the county-level Board of Equalization and Review.

The State Property Tax Commission is the next level of review. Any disputes it can’t settle then wind up in the courts.

The state commission has figured prominently in one of Durham’s most high-profile tax disputes, that between county tax assessors and IBM over the value assigned by the county to computer equipment held by a couple of IBM subsidiaries.

IBM and the county disagreed about how fast the equipment depreciates. The tax commission consistently sided with the county, but state appellate judges have just as consistently overruled its findings and held for the computing giant.

Smith doesn’t expect to weigh in on that dispute, as the county early in 2013 began moving to settle it. It and IBM were at odds over about $9.7 million in taxes and interest.

The Friends of Durham is one of the county’s big-three political groups, sharing that status with the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People’s Alliance.

The Friends is generally considered the most conservative and Republican-leaning of the three. Its members have included former Councilman Thomas Stith, who’s McCrory’s chief of staff.