New county tax appraisals show property values in the downtown Durham area have more than doubled.
The highest median increase — 133.9 percent — is in a census tract just south of the Downtown Loop, on both sides of the Durham Freeway.
The assessed market value of a single-family home there, according to the county tax office, rose from $107,995 in the 2016 tax assessment to $252,574 today.
Overall, the typical single-family home in the county increased 24.5 percent in value since 2016, according to the assessments sent to property owners this month. The typical home is now assessed at $225,793 up from $181,342.
Another area just outside downtown, north of Holloway Street and south of Geer Street, saw an increase of 89.1 percent.
The lowest increases are in south Durham and northern Durham, where some assessed values dropped.
Tax bills to come
Kenny Flowers lives in Old East Durham. He and his wife, Jamie Flowers, bought their house on Hart Street in 2016 for $189,000, well above its tax value at the time. Their house had sat abandoned for years before bring bought and renovated and sold to the couple.
Last year its tax value was $99,000. Their new assessment is $162,501, a 64 percent jump, but Flowers said he wasn’t too surprised.
The state requires counties to do reappraisals every eight years. Durham County’s last appraisal was three years ago, but the county is doing it again now “to help ensure the county’s tax burden is distributed equitably based on current property values,” according to the tax administration office.
“If a property value is changing a lot in one area but not another area, then the tax burden is skewed,” without frequent reappraisals, said Teresa Hairston, interim Durham County tax administrator.
The new assessments will help determine tax bills, once the City Council and county commissioners finalize their budgets for the 2019-20 fiscal year and set their property tax rates in June.
Tax bills will go out in July and August and will be due Sept. 1, though property owners will have until Jan. 5 to pay them without incurring interest.
The county spent two years working on the tax assessments, which reflect nearby home sales, as well as the status of the home and any renovations. About 12,000 properties were sold in Durham County in the past two years. About 110,000 property owners received the new assessments earlier this month.
Hairston told county commissioners Monday night that the tax administration office has received about 589 appeals so far. Property owners can appeal their appraised value online or with a printed form from the county tax office.
Durham County has property tax exemptions for the elderly and disabled, as well as other tax-relief programs available to those who qualify.
Didn’t want to gentrify
The Flowerses looked in northern Durham and Hope Valley before buying their house in Old East Durham, primarily because they could afford it. Kenny Flowers said they didn’t want to cause gentrification.
“We did some research and found out the story of the place. [The sellers] didn’t force somebody out of their home — it had been abandoned for several years before they bought it and renovated it. It was in our budget, which was one of the biggest factors,” he said.
The couple’s last city and county property tax bill on their three-bedroom, one-story house was around $1,350, Flowers said, and if they pay an equivalent rate this year, their bill would be about $2,200. They don’t plan to appeal the assessment
He describes his neighborhood as “very much in transition, which is a nice way to say a bunch of people’s houses are being bought to be flipped.”
Many of their neighbors are senior citizens who have owned their homes for a long time,” he said. “And other neighbors are moving into newly renovated houses.”The Flowerses are white, while many of their neighbors are African-American and Hispanic, he said.
“We have good relationships with all of our neighbors, but it’s hard to know what they really think about us, if you know what I’m saying,” Flowers said.
Kate Dobbs Ariail has lived downtown since 1988. The new tax assessment increased her property value by almost 44 percent, she said.
“I was guessing it would be 20 to 25 percent, because the previous assessments have been big leaps,” she said. “I’m not surprised that it went up. I think they just want the money.”
She would prefer the city and county not raise taxes this year.
“I don’t think that will happen even in the [Chinese] year of the pig, when pigs might fly,” she said. “I want them to go below revenue neutral because I think we’ve gone too far in what the city and the county feel are appropriate uses of everyone’s money.” Under a revenue-neutral tax rate, the government lowers the tax rate on the higher overall tax base to take in the same amount of revenue as before.
“I’m concerned about my friends who are in retirement, or close to retirement, and have lived all their lives in modest houses in town and paid all their own way all this time, and now are threatened by these escalating property values,” Ariail said. She wants local government leaders to consider “the realities of the people that are really right at median income or just a little bit over, especially those on a fixed income.“
“If they are serious about keeping people in their homes, they need to adjust spending expectations, she said. “You can’t just keep adding things in when it’s going to do significant harm to those people paying the bills.”
This year’s tax rate
On Monday night, county commissioners said this spring’s budget talks would start with how much a revenue-neutral tax rate would be.
City Council member Charlie Reece recorded a Facebook live video explaining how revaluation works, noting that state law requires local governments to publish what the revenue neutral tax rate would be for the coming fiscal year. The council will hold a budget retreat on Friday.
Some property owners in the city can still benefit from a tax-relief grant program for the 2017 tax year. The deadline is March 31 to apply for a longtime homeowner grant for the Southside, Northeast Central Durham or Southwest Central Durham target areas within 500 feet of a city housing investment who saw tax increases starting in 2016. That program is ending, though, and is not available as part of the new tax assessments.