Buncombe County’s New Committee on Tax Injustice

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Two serious, overlapping efforts to investigate racial and economic inequalities in Buncombe County began in November, and they are already met with public outrage on the issue.

The newly formed Buncombe Ad Hoc Revaluation Committee and a Dogwood Health Trust-funded, UNC Asheville-led collaborative effort are attempting to address racial and economic differences in taxation.

At its second meeting on December 8th, the ad hoc committee, made up of eight residents and no commissioner, heard for the first time public comments on tax assessment issues.

“I live in the Biltmore area, Shiloh,” said resident Samuel Morgan, who spoke first. “My taxes on my home valuation have increased over $ 100,000 since the last valuation. Anyone here wanting to justify that?”

More: Sidney Powell’s Biltmore Forest home at 25% tax base; small house in a black area, 44%

Morgan said there was “no improvement” in the neighborhood and believed the high rating was “wrong” and there was an effort to “price people out”.

Morgan’s frustration reflects ongoing concerns this year that tax hikes will hit historically black neighborhoods hard and relieve affluent communities.

Not only did this prompt the formation of the Revaluation Committee, it has also prevented investment in stock-based research.

In a press release in early November, it was announced that Dogwood had awarded a $ 850,000 grant to the UNCA Department of Health and Wellness’s work with the Just Accounting for Health Consortium, a group that the university includes, the Asheville Racial Justice Coalition, Strong Towns, and Asheville-based explorer Urban3. belong .

UNCA officials were unable to comment immediately.

Related: Many elderly people benefit from the popular tax return program in Asheville, Buncombe

Two Urban3 employees, Joe Minicozzi and Ori Baber, recently conducted preliminary studies suggesting that “low-income households were overvalued in their tax bills in West North Carolina, while higher- and middle-income households were undervalued,” it says it in a press release about the grant.

Baber is one of the golden threads between the UNCA-led project and the ad hoc committee: he is one of the eight members.

Also on the committee are DeWayne McAfee, Debbie Lane, Miriam McKinney, Melanie Pitrolo, Bobbette Mays, Jonathan Hunter, and Brenda Mills – the newly appointed director of the Asheville Equity and Inclusion Office.

The project is expected to undertake “a comprehensive analysis of tax practices in 18 North Carolina counties” over the next 18 months and seek to address issues across WNC that are also of concern to Buncombe.

Related: New director of equity and inclusion in Asheville to lead reparations and hire new employees

A map of 18 counties that will be the subject of a tax equality study conducted by the University of North Carolina.

A webinar to introduce and explain the project is planned for January 27th.

There will be several community summits “focused on finding workable solutions,” according to the press release during these 18 months.

Ultimately, JAfH will use study and feedback to “develop a toolkit for local advocates and government officials to help them pursue fairer policies”.

People directly affected by property tax increases wonder whether studies and committees will look into what has become a very immediate problem.

Asheville-based Raymond Harrell poses for a photo on his first step on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

“I think it’s a positive thing that they are bothering to look into it,” said Raymond Harrell, another member of the Shiloh community, whose 0.3-acre property dropped 44 from $ 101,600 to $ 146,800 % has increased.

“But I pretty much see it as a bureaucratic rat nest and little to nothing is likely to happen to me.”

More: The record breaking $ 9.5 million home in the Asheville area received tens of thousands of dollars in tax breaks

Baber said he had heard this feeling before. When asked to respond, he was optimistic.

“I see very practical solutions that our local government can take to mitigate and address these inequalities,” he said. “We’re not talking about large, long-term state-level laws that need to be changed. There are some very simple strategies that could be implemented and adopted here on site. ”

More: Say what?!? Asheville makes the ‘Worst Places to Live’ list based on standard of living

Ori Baber is an analyst at Urban3, where he contributed to a study on inequality in municipal tax assessment.  Baber holds a PhD in Sustainable Infrastructure and Urban Health from the University of Florida and is a member of the Buncombe County's Ad Hoc Reclamation Committee that was formed this year.

As efforts to address economic inequality and adjacent racial issues in Buncombe and beyond, questions remain about immediate issues of affordability.

“I can afford to pay my taxes. A lot of people can’t,” Morgan said, adding skepticism about the narrative that everyone wanted to live in the Shiloh area. “It’s unreal. I have nothing more to say.”

Andrew Jones is the Buncombe County government reporter and health reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow or reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter. Email him at [email protected]

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