In North Carolina, the County Assessor is the official charged with the responsibility of listing, appraising and assessing all real and personal property for tax purposes.
The Valuation Standard:
"Market Value" is the appraisal standard for all property in North Carolina. Since market value is a concept in economic theory and cannot be directly observed, it is best represented by “arms-length” sales. Thus, sales data becomes an integral part of the information used to create the County’s Schedule of Values, Standards and Rules. The Schedule must be adopted by the County Commissioners prior to the effective date of the general county-wide reappraisal program. The Schedule becomes the basis for all tax appraisals in the year of the reappraisal and in subsequent non-reappraisal years. If properly applied, the Schedule of Values, Standards and Rules will result in tax values that reflect the market value standard.
The Property Tax Base:
All property in the County is taxable, unless it is exempted or excluded by the Constitution or the General Assembly. The total value of all taxable property is the county’s property tax base. Each year at budget time, an estimate of the tax base becomes an integral part of the budget equation which, in part, determines the annual tax rate.
All taxable property in the tax base may be broadly classified as real property, personal property or public service property. Personal property has subclasses with varying rules for appraisal and assessment.
Typically, real property (land and improvements to land) is the largest component of the tax base. The ownership and taxable status of real property is determined annually as of January 1. Under the permanent listing system (which Gaston County adopted in 1984), the owner of real property is not required to "list". Instead, the tax office records changes to ownership based upon the title documents recorded in the Register of Deeds Office and the Office of the Clerk of Court. Physical changes to properties, such as new construction, etc., are identified from building permits and/or by observation. The property owner also has a legal responsibility to report changes made to a property.
The value of all real estate is determined as of January 1 of the year of the Countywide General Reappraisal. (The County's last Reappraisal was effective January 1, 2007). The ownership and taxable status of property is determined annually as of January 1. Real property taxes are due each September 1. Taxes are payable through January 5 of the following year. Interest accrues a 2% during January and ¾ of 1 % interest each month thereafter until paid in full.
By State law, each county must reappraise all real property at least once every eight years. The Board of County Commissioners may, with approval of the Department of Revenue, advance the reappraisal cycle. With Gaston County completing its last reappraisal in 2007, we are required by Statute to implement the next reappraisal by 2015 tax year.
There are two sub-classes of personal property assessed in North Carolina. The first consists of items such as business machinery and equipment, certain manufactured homes, boats, airplanes and untagged and permanently tagged motor vehicles. The second sub-class of personal property is registered motor vehicles.
Business and Individual Personal Property:
The ownership, taxable status and value of business personal property and individual personal property are determined annually as of January 1. Owners of such property are required to list their property on listing forms provided by the County. Listing forms must be filed no later than January 31, unless the owner files a timely request for a listing extension. The failure to list within the permitted period results in a "late-listing" penalty which is 10% of the tax due on the property. Personal property taxes are due on September 1.
Registered Motor Vehicles:
The ownership and taxable status of registered motor vehicles is determined as of the date of a new registration or renewal of the vehicle registration. The value of a registered motor vehicle is determined as of January 1 of the year in which the tax bill becomes due or if a new model is introduced to the market after January 1, the value is determined as the date of introduction. The tax is due on the first day of the fourth month after the vehicle is registered. The tax becomes delinquent the first day of the following month. When taxes remain unpaid the County may apply a block to future registrations. The registration block will be removed when the taxes are paid.
Public Service Companies:
Property owned by Public Service Companies may be comprised of both real and personal property. The ownership, status and valuation of Public Utilities and Public Service Companies are determined as of January 1 based upon the owner’s report submitted the North Carolina Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue determines the value of the reported property and provides assessment information to each county. Based upon the information provided, counties bill and collect the taxes. The tax for Public Service Company property is due on September 1.
Exemptions and Exclusions:
Although all property in the County must be appraised at the market value standard, state law provides several exemptions, exclusions and other special assessments that may reduce or eliminate an owner's tax liability.
Some exemptions / exclusions are automatic and others require the owner to demonstrate that the property meets the statutory requirements for the exemption or exclusion. Property owned by a government entity does not require an application. Other owners, such as churches, must file an exemption application that demonstrates that the property qualifies for the exemption. Applications must be submitted during the month of January. Late applications submitted after January 31 may be considered, but their approval is contingent upon action by the Board of Equalization and Review
Elderly or Disabled Property Tax Homestead Exclusion:
The Elderly or Disabled Property Tax Homestead Exclusion is a major exclusion that requires the owner to make a one-time application. To qualify, a Gaston County resident must be 65 years or older or must have a total and permanent disability as of January 1 of the application year. For 2012, the applicant’s 2011 total income (individual or husband and wife) cannot exceed $27,100. Qualifying applicants receive the greater of $25,000 or 50% of the value of their residence as a reduction from their tax bill. The income limit may change annually. The application deadline is June 1.
Property Tax Homestead Circuit Breaker:
The Property Tax Homestead Circuit Breaker is an expansion of the preferential tax treatment for the elderly or disabled. This program became effective on January 1, 2009. This is a tax deferment program for North Carolina residents who meet all of the qualifications for the Homestead Exclusion and they have lived in their current residence for at least five years and the property has been in the same name for the prior five years. Although current recipients of the Elderly or Disabled Property Tax Homestead Exclusion may choose this option, it is more likely that applicants whose income exceeds the limit for the Homestead Exclusion would be interested in this. For 2012, the income limit for this program is $40,650 (2009 income). The application deadline is June 1.
As a tax deferment program, the total tax bill (all county, city or special district taxes) cannot exceed a percentage of the recipients’ total income. The deferred tax for up to three prior years (plus interest) becomes a lien upon the property and will become due upon a disqualifying event which includes:
1.The death of the recipient (unless the spouse continues to live in the home).
2.The transfer of the property.
3.The owner ceases to use the property as a “permanent residence” (exception recipient is in a nursing home and he or she can return to the residence).
The table below shows the maximum limit of tax that would be due for the 2010 tax year for those who choose and qualify for the Circuit Breaker provision.
Tax Year 2012 (Income from 2011)
Income Cap Tax
$1 - $27,100
$ 0 - $1,084
$27,101 - $40,650
$ 1,355 - $2,032
The Circuit Breaker provision requires an annual application. The application deadline is June 1.
Disabled Veteran Property Tax Homestead Exclusion
Beginning in 2009, qualifying veterans or their widowed spouses may receive a reduction of up to $45,000 in assessed value on their residence. The new provision expands the qualifications for the exclusion and increases the amount excluded from taxation. The application deadline is June 1.
Due to the complexities of many of the exemption / exclusion programs, all interested persons should contact the Tax Office for more detailed information.
Each year the property owner has two avenues of value review. The first is an informal review with a county appraiser. The second is a formal appeal to the Board of Equalization and Review. By law, the Board is comprised of the members of the Board of County Commissioners or a special board appointed by the Commission. Regardless of its makeup, the Board of Equalization and Review is an independent review body, distinct and separate from the tax office.
A property owner may request an informal review of the value of his property with the County Assessor at anytime between January 1 and the date upon which the Board of Equalization and Review convenes. Once the board is in session, the review authority rests with the board. After the board adjourns for the purpose of accepting appeals, the owner's right to appeal during that calendar year normally ends.
Since the tax bill serves as a notice of value for personal property, the appeal deadline for these items is thirty days from the date of the official tax notice.
One of the most important aspects of real property appraisal and tax assessment is location. Accordingly, many tax offices are involved in parcel mapping. In Gaston County parcel mapping is a very high priority task and the tax office staff maintains and utilizes a Geographic Information System (GIS) to map parcel boundaries and analyze location information in the appraisal process. In order to conduct an up to date county-wide reappraisal, the tax office compiles parcel boundaries upon an aerial photographic base. Up to date aerial imagery is a fundamental element in the use of GIS for appraisal purposes. To aid in the completion of the next general reappraisal, the County obtained new orthophotography in 2009. These images become the backdrop for the County's GIS that is used by both County employees and the taxpayers via the World Wide Web.
Investment Grant Program:
Another important duty involves the administration of the County’s Investment Grant Program. Businesses falling under the categories of manufacturing, warehousing, data processing, retail or homes for the elderly that make investments in Gaston County of over $1,000,000 begin the grant application process with the County's Economic Development Commission (EDC) by calling 704-825-4046. After completed applications are filed with the EDC, they are then processed by the tax office staff who determines the annual grant payments.
Industrial grants may fall into one of four grant levels with a five-year $1,000,000 net investment, a nine-year $15,000,000 net investment, a ten-year $30,000,000 net investment or a ten-year $50,000,000 net investment. Five-year Retail grants require net investment of $40,000,000.
Small Business Investment Grant for Year 2012 (ONLY)
Effective for the 2012 calendar year, the Board of Commissioners adopted a temporary Small Business Investment Grant for investments made during calendar year 2012 that result in a net increase in tax value of at least $10,000 but less than $1,000,000. Qualifying businesses will receive a grant equal to 50% of the new net taxes. Applications for a Small Business Grant must be filed directly with the Tax Office between January 3, 2013 and April 15, 2013.
The single most important source of revenue for the County is the property tax. As such, the main goal of the Tax Office is to "ensure equity for all property owners" by strict compliance with the North Carolina General Statutes. This involves constant work and attention to detail. As such, the tax office is constantly striving to find new and better ways to achieve the goal of a fair and equitable assessment system.