As this year’s North Carolina Association of Assessing Officers (NCAAO) President, I’ve tried to make good communication one of my priorities. Across North Carolina, we have received appeals from common taxpayers. There are a lot of them. We can call them multi-jurisdiction taxpayers and define them as individual taxpayers with real and personal property in more than one jurisdiction. It only makes sense for that taxpayer to keep track of how each of us responds to appeals. Which of us concede easily? Which of us have accurate data and can defend our values? Are there any counties that do not have the financial or other resources available to defend values?
We know they care about keeping track of us because when those appellants contact us, they’ll let us know right away, “You do know that Durake County dropped their value to $47 per sq ft and New Catamance dropped their value to $52 per sq ft. Don’t you think $90 is a little high”? So to this end, we’ve established a Data Sharing Committee to research the best way we can share information before we get that appeal. Wouldn’t it be better for the counties at $47 per square ft to know other counties are much higher, and why? Wouldn’t it be better for our commercial appraisers to have a contact person in each county to talk with about the numbers, techniques, and resources? This certainly isn’t a game, we’re targeting fairness and equity, not “winning”. But we believe this is a way for our employees to be more proactive instead of feeling like we’re playing defense. If you would like to learn more about the Data Sharing Committee, please contact one of the committee members. A list of committee members can be found on our website here. https://www.sog.unc.edu/resources/microsites/nc-association-assessing-officers/officers-and-committees
Another communication focal point needs to be PTAX. PTAX has been one of our best communication tools since our tax offices, in whole, began widespread use of email. Joe Hunt and his resources at the School of Government introduced us to the idea of the PTAX listserv in 1999, so we’re getting close to 20 years using this same tool that allows one person’s idea or question to be shared with over 1,700 members with the click of a button. At times, either the School of Government or the NCAAO have needed to pull the reins back on PTAX usage. We’ve seen nice poetry and inspirational messages, and we’ve sometimes seen less than kind comments about legislative ideas. All of those things may have a place, but it’s not PTAX. Our NCAAO and NCTCA Legislative Committees and the NCDOR work hard to keep healthy lines of communication in place with legislators and the NC Association of County Commissioners. PTAX isn’t a forum for grumbling. When the send button is pressed, it becomes a public record. If we review the official description of PTAX, it’s technically for assessors and collectors to communicate with each other, but the list is open to all property tax officials, their staffs, and members of the NCAAO and NCTCA. But obviously resources for commercial appraiser and delinquent collector discussions are important too. We’re thinking we need to narrow the focus when using a “PTAX-type” communication tool. So to that end, we’ve already created a listserv limited in membership to the 100 appointed assessors, the NCDOR, and the SOG. It is called firstname.lastname@example.org. The stated purpose is to create a forum to discuss management level assessment issues open only to the appointed assessor in each county, the School of Government, and North Carolina Department of Revenue. If you are one of the 100 assessors, you’re already a member. Instructions will be sent soon. The creation of a listserv only for appointed collectors is also in the works. While doing this, it’s worth mentioning whether the SOG needs to be involved in the listserv management business anymore, or even if listservs are in our future. Kirk Boone at the SOG has volunteered to be the assessor listserv manager for now, but is it necessary? A listserv list can be managed from a number of web-based email providers for free. And, regardless of where a listserv is managed, it’s still a public record. If an email is made or received in connection with the transaction of public business, it is a public record. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a private server or sent from a private email address.
So what about the future of “ptax-type” communication for all of us? I’m talking from assessors, appraisers, and data collectors to the appointed collector and delinquent collection clerks. Certainly individual listservs are easy and free and we can do it ourselves. But there’s one more new resource out there that has been well received and it completely replaced the NC Finance Officers listserv. It’s called NC Finance Connect, https://www.sog.unc.edu/resources/tools/nc-finance-connect
NC Finance Connect was launched around the beginning of 2017 in response to the vision of School of Government faculty and due to the 1,400-member finance officers listserv sometimes overloading email inboxes with questions and comments not directly related to their specific area. Members also found it difficult to find previously posted discussions and documents. Sound familiar? NC Finance Connect attempts to limit these problems, narrow discussions, plus add new features. There are already property tax discussion topics and I understand from the SOG that other categories can be created. We’ll need to go slow with this tool. There is a learning curve. But check it out. Could this replace PTAX and other listservs?
I hope all readers will continue to communicate, and even increase communication, about assessment and collection. We have some of the best tools ever to do this among jurisdictions. But please don’t forget to communicate internally first. Go to your supervisor. If you are the supervisor, go to the assessor or collector. If you are the assessor or collector, consider asking a colleague from another jurisdiction whether it would be appropriate on PTAX. If any of you need answers to assessment and collection questions, there should be a resource there in your jurisdiction to help. Let’s use PTAX with care and restraint. If there’s any thought about whether a PTAX post might be improper, slow down first. Proceed with caution. But please know that your question or comment is important. Let’s all work together to find the best forum for it.