LAURINBURG — With signs, speeches and advertisements hinging on “It’s time for a change,” a candidate for the Scotland County Board of Commissioners has used his campaign to bring to the forefront 2011-2012 tax revaluations he says were crafted to benefit county residents as a personal favor.
Samuel Cribb, a self-employed surveyor and contractor, is running to represent the Stewartsville township against incumbent commissioners Guy McCook and Carol McCall and challengers Terence Williams and Shelley Strickland.
The last day of the early voting period for the May primary is today from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday is Election Day.
Cribb claims that during that year’s revaluation process, there were many tax revaluations that were done improperly or out of favoritism by then tax appraiser Kirk McBride, all of which were fixed except for a handful that belong to a county resident and his relatives, or family members of McBride.
One particular resident, Cribb says, is “hoodooing” the county out of thousands of tax revenue annually.
County tax cards, provided to The Laurinburg Exchange by Cribb, show that the value of a home was reduced by McBride from an appraised value of about $430,000 in 2010 to $334,000 during the revaluation process in 2011-2012. Cribb says in that same year, many other homes were revalued by more than $20,000.
Cribb has alleged that taxpayers whose property values were reduced by McBride told him they were able to “get what they wanted” from the former tax appraiser.
Cribb has taken his claims to local elected officials and law enforcement agencies, including the North Carolina Attorney General’s office, and no charges have been filed as a result. District Attorney Kristy Newton requested an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation, and that agency turned findings it had collected over a six-month period over to Newton on Jan. 4, 2013.
Newton has said the case is closed. No charges were filed. Cribb said the case did not result in charges because no proof exists that property owners paid for revaluations which resulted in the tax reduction.
“She said she can’t press charges because I can’t prove that money was passed,” Cribb said.
Cribb has alleged that he and Charles “Scoofer” Jordan, who currently serves on the city of Laurinburg Planning Board, were “kicked off ” the Board of Equalization and Review when they brought up concerns about the revalued properties and after Cribb checked a revaluation done by McBride and found that a county resident was paying taxes on a home rendered uninhabitable by fire.
In 2011, Cribb and Jordan were the longest-serving members on the six-member board, which is appointed by the county commissioners and hears residents’ concerns about improper tax evaluations.
“Sam and I along with Walter Rogers served on that board for at least 10 years,” Jordan said. “And then the year that we were asked to rotate off, they told us they had changed the guidelines and we had been on long enough and they were going to bring some new people on.
“Don’t get me wrong, that may be the reason, the only thing that made it suspicious was that Walter Rogers was not asked to leave at the same time we were.”
County Manager Kevin Patterson said that Cribb and Jordan were the first two asked to step down from the board in the county policy that was started that year of rotating board members with the longest time served off of the board in sets of two. Rogers was one of two asked to step down the following year, he said. According to county policy, members of the board are appointed for staggered three-year terms.
According to Ann Kurtzman, clerk to the county commissioners, Cribb and Jordan were appointed to the board on March 10, 2003. Rogers was appointed on March 14, 2005.
Board members can reapply to serve on the board following one year’s absence.
“If anybody was to be retained or carried over it should have been Sam Cribb because of his knowledge about the county,” Jordan said. “I don’t know anybody who knows more about Scotland County than Sam Cribb.”
McBride, who briefly worked as a county appraiser and is now self-employed, says Cribb’s claims stem from a disagreement the two had about the value of property that Cribb owns on Academy Road. According to tax records available on the county’s GIS system, one such parcel was previously valued at $6,500 but was raised during revaluation to $7,880.
“He didn’t get what he wanted and that was the problem,” McBride said.
Jordan said Cribb “fought hard” during the revaluation process.
“He contested his taxes, he recused himself when his tax appeal came up, he would leave the meeting while we talked about things — that’s what you do. He appealed some properties but it was other things too that he was concerned about. … Sam has done a lot of work on this, and there are some things that just didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
But while acknowledging that Cribb has spent numerous years in the county “and has probably surveyed every part of it at least once,” Rogers said he feels like the Board of Equalization and Review addressed his concerns appropriately.
“Sam had a problem with the evaluation on some of his property but I felt like the board did a good job explaining to him why they did what they did. … I know at one time, there was some conflict that came up, but he is no longer working with the county.”
Rogers would not say whether he was referring to McBride.
“By him not working for the county anymore, he’s not an issue anymore. And any issue that he may have created, I feel sure that we addressed it to the best of our ability.”
Patterson said McBride left on his own accord, and no disciplinary action was taken against him during his time spent with the county.
McBride told The Laurinburg Exchange on Friday that he is now a self-employed appraiser.
During his time in the county, McBride said he revalued several large homes at a lower rate than the previous tax appraisers,because the software system that had been used did not account for market fluctuations and did not produce realistic home values for an area like Scotland County, where large homes are not in high demand.
That issue is present in all mass tax appraisals that don’t rely on independent inspections of each parcel of land, he said, which in the county number more than 20,000.
“The county could never afford to have an appraiser come out and evaluate every house in the county,” McBride said. “Your house is worth what someone in this area is willing to pay for it.”
Tax Administrator Mary Helen Norton said one specific property that Cribb has referenced was reported to have had a full basement by the previous appraiser, whom she called “a little heavy handed.” The square footage of the home was changed during the 2011 revaluation to show that the house, in fact, had a partial, unfinished basement.
“That was not a difference of opinion on the value, that was an error that was corrected,” she said.
As to the burned-out home, according to McBride and the county tax office, the county continues to tax homes that have been rendered uninhabitable to encourage property owners to remove damaged structures from their property.
“They do it because otherwise people would just leave their houses and not mess with them,” McBride said. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have done it. In my opinion, as a real estate appraiser, that (burned-out) house isn’t worth any money. It detracts from the value (of the property).”
McBride says he’s not sure why Cribb can’t drop the issue.
“It was investigated by the SBI, as far as I am aware it was dismissed,” he said. “I’m not really sure what the favoritism is, or lack thereof I should say. I honestly did my job, and when it was time to leave I left.”
But Jordan says when compared with other revaluations, Cribb seemed to get the short end of the stick.
“I don’t understand some of the relief that others got that Sam did not, and that’s part of what he’s upset about. I think the tax department probably owed him an explanation at the very least … but I was told (McBride) had the authority to do what he did. So if he made a mistake or if there was favoritism involved, then I guess he had the authority to make the changes that he did.”
Cribb said he has brought the issue before Scotland County Board of Commissioners and does not understand why they have not taken action.
“Mr. Cribb has appeared before the board of commissioners, he has talked with our county manager, he has talked with me both separately and jointly with Kevin Patterson,” said John Alford, a county commissioner not running for re-election. “We went over all the information, the maps and all with him … we covered every base, we checked in detail every complaint that he had. None of his complaints were valid.”
Alford said the board followed a statute and policy as it relates to Cribb’s complaints, and refuted them all.
“The county is not in violation of any tax code or violations as it relates to his issues,” Alford said. “We did everything we could — we did our due diligence.”
Norton says the tax office is open to anyone who would like to investigate Cribb’s claims.
“Anybody who wants to come in, and wants to follow up on anything, we’ll be glad to talk to them,” she said. “Anybody that wants to come in and look at those issues that he is talking about, we’d be glad to show those things to them.”
Cribb submitted a letter to the editor stating his claims, but when the newspaper edited the letter to remove specific information that could be used to identify involved parties, Cribb refused publication, saying he did not want it to appear if it could not be printed exactly as submitted. He has since responded, in a letter to the editor, to a letter written in defense of the tax office in the wake of his claims, and has purchased a political advertisement in the newspaper in which he has made additional claims against the county’s administration.
During a March 1 meeting of the Scotland County Democratic Women, at which candidates were invited to speak, Cribb told at least one person who was in attendance that he planned to sue The Laurinburg Exchange if the newspaper did not print his allegations.
A woman by the name of Julie Davis, who said she was from Davis and Dunn Law Firm in Concord, called The Laurinburg Exchange claiming to represent Cribb. Davis could not be reached following that conversation, and no record of a Davis and Dunn Law Firm in Concord could be found.
Cribb said on Wednesday that Davis was a personal friend who was not employed by a law firm, and that he had retained a different attorney. When asked for his current representation’s contact information, he refused.
“They don’t want to talk to you,” he said.
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, Ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.