9 Investigates: Costly county tax errors

by: Scott Wickersham Updated:

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MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. —

Some homeowners in Mecklenburg County are still fighting to get their property tax values lowered after the botched 2011 revaluation.

After getting a tip, anchor Scott Wickersham started looking into properties that aren't being taxed at all.  
          
Channel 9 investigated and found some properties worth millions of dollars paying nothing in property taxes.

Wickersham poured through tax data looking for properties not being taxed and found several that aren't exactly hidden from public view.

On Independence Boulevard, the Hendrick Porsche dealership sells luxury sports cars.

The building, valued at a million dollars, is not included on its annual tax bill.

While Hendrick receives and pays a bill for the land and other structures on the property, the value of that building has not been included on the bill according to tax assessors.

If the value were added, the county says it would add $12,000 to Hendrick’s annual tax bill.

Taxpayers like Erinn Vernon call it shocking.

“It’s hard to believe,” she said.

Since the county can go back six years to collect taxes, the dealership could get a $72,000 bill for previous years.

Morningstar Mini-Storage on Little Rock Road built in 2007 could be worth $3 million, but has been taxed as land only.

The property owner could owe $180,000 in back taxes.

The building for Carolina Veterinary Specialist on Statesville Road in Huntersville was just added as taxable this year, but constructed long ago.

The land owner could owe $46,200.

New Mecklenburg County tax assessor Ken Joyner blames the oversight on failed policies of the past.

Tax officials should visit properties at least every six years to find errors like these, but before he arrived, Joyner said it had been a 17 years in some cases.

Imagine how much has changed in Charlotte in 17 years.

Since 2012, the county has found 50 commercial buildings that were not being taxed and 200 homes.

The county hired Fred Pearson to help make the system fair again after the failed 2011 revaluation. He's found what could be one of the largest missed opportunities in the entire county: the Duke Energy Center.

It’s valued at $271 million. Pearson thinks it’s more like $378 million based on its current occupancy.

That difference is saving owner Wells Fargo -- but potentially costing taxpayers -- as much as much as $1.5 million a year.

They're also double checking tax exempt properties.

As for the properties Channel 9 found, the county is now assessing its options, contacting the owners and may be sending them a hefty bill.

Taxpayers said they are happy to hear it.

County leaders are quick to point out that it isn't the fault of those property owners that the county didn't tax them.

Leaders think the changes they're making now will make the system fairer for every taxpayer.