Florence-impacted neighbors along empty lake challenge Brunswick Co. home value increase

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Arvil Stephens overlooks the pit behind his home that was once Patricia Lake. (Andrew James/WWAY)

BOILING SPRING LAKES, NC – Base property values are going up in Brunswick County according to the tax assessors office. No tax rate increases are expected in the new budget, but the increase in home values in some areas is not sitting well with homeowners impacted by hurricane Florence.

The tax rate is set to remain unchanged in the county within the upcoming 2020 fiscal year budget. However, the county says the base property values have increased 10%. They say the increases are not seen countywide. In fact, some areas have been unchanged and some have seen decreases according to county tax administrator Jeff Niebauer.

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In areas like Boiling Spring Lakes, neighbors are trying to make sense of the increase and the potential for hundreds of dollars more in taxes taken out of their home in the new year.

“I just don’t know how they can say this is more valuable than a property on the water,” said homeowner Arvil Stephens.

A year ago Stephens had that kind of home. His home sits on a peninsula along Patricia Lake. The ‘Big Lake’ was drained like the rest after Florence floodwaters resulted in a breach at the dams.



“It was a beautiful location,” said Stephens overlooking the pit that now is the big lake. “This was completely destroyed.”

Stephens was impacted when the dam breached and the lake washed out. He had to restore the bulkhead with little to no financial help and most of it funded out of his own pocket. He then looked into the impacts it did to his home’s value in an attempt to see if he could received a better interest rate on the mortgage. What he learned was what he feared.

“We knew it would be significant, but I didn’t realize 97,000 significant,” said Stephens.

The Stephens home along the big lake in BSL.

His home value decreased by nearly $100,000. In February, he heard different from the county. The county says the value of their home is up roughly 17% than last year when water sat in the ‘Big Lake.’ Stephens’s private assessment shows that without water that value is actually down nearly 20%. That’s a trend he has seen at neighboring homes sold in the months after the storm.

“It’s just insulting that we’ve suffered such significant damage but yet the county thinks the property is more valuable and we’re being taxed on that increased value,” Stephens said.

He did what most homeowners would do and appealed the increase.

“He got back to us a week or so later and said ‘sorry nothing we can do’. The assessed values are based on the sales price of properties,” Stephens said.

The county tax office tells WWAY’s Andrew James that they worked with independent appraisers, real estate agents and the city with the understanding that the lakes would be restored. Niebauer says the county uses market data to perform the reassessment. The previous assessment on the Stephens’s home was in 2016 and Niebauer says the reassessment was due to happen this year keeping with their four-year cycle.

Stephens thinks that process needs to be overhauled and redone.

“Just be fair that’s all I’m asking,” Stephens said. “For those of us that use to have water it’s gone. And out property values have decreased significantly.”

The increases taxes on homes where values were raised will not go into effect until bills are sent out at the end of the years according to the county. The county commission still has to approve the new annual budget. That vote on the budget is expected sometime later this month.