I am a retired caregiver, My own home is now a rental property across town. The mortgage is a giant sucking sound that is not even covered by the rent.
[ASIDE: TO all you OTHER Mecklenburg County homeowners who are (still) gasping over the recent insane "Revaluation" of our property and preparing to fight a battle with the Board of Equalization here in Charlotte, I'm right there with you.
I got a callback from County Comm. Chair Jennifer Roberts last week over a heavy-handed letter I got from the Tax Collector in the mail about my past due auto tax and the THREATENED LEVY AND SEIZURE OF MY 15 YEAR OLD CAR, just to let her know what I thought about the bullying tone of the letter, and that the letter was dated 5/2/11, received 5/7/11 with payment demanded by the following Monday --5/9/11 or risk having the car seized by the Sheriff's department. TRULY bad form. She made nice comforting noises about the delayed mailing and tone of the letter and promised to look into it. We moved on to other topics. But she revealed that she didn't know Wachovia Services was an outsourced mailing service for the Tax Collector's office. --maybe for the entire county, I don't know..and apparently she didn't either.
She thought the reason "Wachovia Services" was involved at all in the mailing was that they were a lienholder on my (15 year old, paid for) car, . I mentally stepped back a bit from that lack of knowledge on her part and thought hmm..."What ELSE doesn't she know about that is outsourced?"
We discussed briefly the recent humongous and absurd "property appraisal done in Dreamland" by the County Dreamed Up Appraisal Fairies. I told her I was really concerned that rumor had it she was going to raise tax rates and NOT adopt "revenue neutral" tax rate adjustment like the City is (supposed to do), explaining that as a caregiver on fixed income I might be forced to sell my house because an extra $150 a month tacked on my mortgage payment was an impossibility for me AND my elderly mother, that HER property value increased by 35+ % while MY tax appraisal went up over 66 per cent! In a blue collar neighborhood that has had homes listed for months and months going nowhere. It's a good neighborhood, but "buyers" want to pay NOTHING for the houses now...they are simply investor sharks trolling, for the most part, not real people. Banks not lending to ORDINARY people, you know...
I also reminded her that I had campaigned for her since we first met in MY neighborhood at a bar-b-q when she ran for the first time for county commissioner. She seemed a decent sort then and still is I'm sure. But I'm not sure she has a finger on the GENERAL pulse of things, which I believe a County Chairperson should have.
Oddly enough, I don't think Jennifer actually understands that tax values do NOT technically and directly affect the property's actual "equity" (She mentioned that many people were angry because their "equity went down" when some of the tax values went down. I tried to explain that a house's "equity" didn't directly have anything to do with its tax value in an existing mortgage per se. She argued that it did. Well, it doesn't, except tangentially.
Anybody who is paying a mortgage and/or has bought and sold a house knows that MARKET PRICES are what drive INTRINSIC equity up or down, NOT "tax appraisal values". Tax values are taken into account when a home is placed on the market, yes, but overall it's the market values in a particular neighborhood, sales comps, that affect equity that is realized out of a home SALE.
If you are living in a home with an outstanding mortgage, the MARKET value (and subsequent equity that might be realized out of a sale) is separate and distinct from the tax value. Tax value might impact the refinance appraisal --sometimes MORE than a bit if the bank doesn't REALLY want to lend any money, as they have been reluctant to do (greedy bastards sitting on 1/2 % borrowing rate...argh...)
but by and large comps, condition of the property, and the seller's motivation are the major factors in realizing equity from a property.
If *I* were a buyer in the Charlotte market, I'd look at comparable market prices in the neighborhood, the condition of the house, and look at a LOWER than normal tax value and say "YAY! That much less I have to pay in taxes until the next revaluation"...lol.
Anyway, Ms Roberts couldn't seem to grasp that, clearly believed that tax values alone were directly affecting people's equity.
Again I thought, "Hmmm..."
I'm a little worried about what else she might not know...]
ANYWAY...back to DUKE ENERGY.
Recently, there was a heavy storm here in Charlotte and a transformer located in the right rear corner of my property blew, causing outages in the neighborhood.
A Duke Energy truck was seen on my property, evidently doing repairs. In the process, they managed to add a lot of cut wood to my yard randomly, and a LOT of brush was tossed into a dog run at the rear of the property, where I had temporarily stacked cut wood from volunteer trees I had removed from the backyard, put in the pen to season so I could recycle it, give the wood to folks with wood stoves and fpls who might need it.
The brushpile that was ORIGINALLY there had been doubled by "someone" I discovered after the storm. Dozens of sectioned limbs had been cut and thrown into the pen and the yard.
I noticed new cuts on trees bordering my yard in the area of the pole, in the line of access.
Duke Energy's post-storm repairs had resulted in a major "CLEAN UP" for me, the property owner.
A month or so prior to the storm in question, some limbs dropped on the direct line to my house and high winds were blowing the limbs, causing the lights to flicker on and off, threatening to rip the line off the house.
After denying any responsibility initially, telling me they would only DROP the line so I could remove the limbs myself ---???---
I finally was able to talk with a gentleman in the repair department who had some common sense and he made arrangements to correct this dangerous situation, dispatching a team to remove the limbs. He was careful to advise me that they would cut the limbs in manageable pieces and cut them up for me to take care of, which I understood, since that was on MY line and was MY responsibility. I could accept that. After all it was MY fallen tree that was directly causing the problem.
What I found difficult to accept, however, is that in the course of this SUBSEQUENT post-storm maintenance and repair of THEIR EQUIPMENT a couple of months later, repair that was not directly impacting (laying on) MY line, they left a GREAT DEAL of brush and debris willy-nilly in the back yard.
In true Alice's Restaurant fashion, had simply dumped cut brush and debris to an existing pile of sectioned logs, etc., DEBRIS THAT HAD TO BE CUT TO REACH THEIR EQUIPMENT AND REPLACE IT, leaving ME to do THEIR maintenance cleanup.
I had issues with that.
I can't remember signing anything that says *I* as property owner am required to do general cleanup for Duke Power when they are doing routine maintenance repair and replacement of equipment.
THAT, IMHO, is simply part and parcel of the "cost of doing business".
I had only entered a claim for $50, the amount I figured was fair and reasonable for THEIR part of my cleanup. (I paid a total of $270)
My claim was summarily dismissed by a third party intermediary company named "SRS" -Specialty Risk Services out of Tennessee. In their response letter, SRS (deliberately?) misstated my entire concern and denied my request, alleging that a) I was asking for the ENTIRE cost of cleanup of my backyard to be paid for by Duke Energy (NOT) and b) they referred only to the previous removal of the limbs from MY line in justifying their denial, making no reference to the storm repairs that had added the (contested) debris left by Duke Energy.
In other words, they did not address my ACTUAL grievance at all.
Ignoring the ACTUAL claim for $50 for cleanup of the limbs, brush and debris that was tossed into my yard by Duke Energy employees doing maintenance repairs, they "respectfully denied" the claim of "$200" the said I had entered. Wrong on all counts.
I think the term appropriate for that kind of response are "stonewalling by obfuscating" --deliberately trying to confuse the issue to be ABLE to justify denying my claim after misstating it in every way possible.
Their response simply caused me to focus my attention on a situation that needs to be fixed: that property owners are currently held financially responsible GENERALLY---and picking up the tab for --- DukeEnergy's maintenance and repair expenses.
I consider this completely unacceptable.
DukeEnergy shareholders have long been paid at or near the maximum allowable dividend of 10% annually, and part of that dividend is thanks to property owners like me who are forced into paying for DUKE ENERGY's BUSINESS EXPENSES.
I then contacted ATT, who also shares the use of these poles with DukeEnergy for their service.
Their representative advised me that, should ATT need to clear out trees that are impacting their services or their lines ATT DOES ITS OWN CLEANUP.
SO why is Duke Energy getting a pass on this?
I then spoke with a woman named "Jessica" with the NC Utilities Commission. After several days of silence and a second call to her, she responded (essentially) that the storm was "an act of God" and that was not Duke Energy's fault and that Duke didn't "own" the trees they had trimmed to get to their equipment, so Duke was not responsible for the cleanup.
An "act of God" that damaged Duke Energy's equipment that *I* am responsible for cleaning up after the COMPANY EMPLOYEES when they have to cut trees to replace said equipment??
I THINK NOT.
Furthermore, if they replaced the transformer, were only MY trees trimmed? Or was my yard the most convenient one to throw the limbs in, since I seriously doubt they carefully noted which limb came from whose tree and designated it to the appropriate yard.
My neighbor to the rear said he hadn't noticed any cut limbs thrown in his yard, but he could see where trees had been cut,
and the neighbor to my right has a tall fence that might have posed a problem, so hmmm.. Guess what probably happened?
My house was the one where nobody was home. AND there was this convenient pen full of wood, plus several cut limbs on the ground from the 1st trip Duke Energy had made to clear fallen limbs off the house line. Sooo...(I can imagine their thought processes...
" If we just throw all the limbs into this yard, nobody's home anyway...Problem solved. We can walk away and go to lunch."
You see, my driveway was the one accessible to a cherrypicker which would be needed to reach the equipment.
My neighbors both had fences or boats in the way. That's a situation that I will fix this week via Home Depot ;>
So after Ms. Jessica of the mighty Utilities Commission generally asserted that it WAS my responsibility to clean up after Duke Energy's "Act of God" problem and then summarily hung up on me when I refused to accept her decision, I called BACK and asked to speak to HER supervisor, a MUCH more pleasant speaking person.
He listened to my concern carefully, apologized for Ms Jessica of the smart mouth and expressed surprise (I suggested he start recording her contacts with customers calling in to hear the "real" Jessica in action) and he promised to contact the SRS company and Duke Energy again on my behalf and explain the CORRECTED claim after I explained the situation one more time.
Jessica had missed all the salient points beautifully in her determination to defend Duke Energy and thwart me. She also accusingly told me she had tried to call me TWICE the day before and gotten a "Circuits busy" signal (sounding for all the world that she felt that was MY fault) . I replied the problem was the DEPARTMENT's phone lines, not mine, that I had received other incoming calls yesterday with no problems, and that my calls TO teh NCUC had been staticky, had weird whooshing sounds in the background, I had been dropped twice, and and that she should take it up with her carrier. (Ha!)
Jury is still out as to final outcome.
But I think it's time people got together and FIXED this situation of relegating the cleanup costs for DUKE ENERGY to property owners. After all, DUKE ENERGY KNEW when they installed aerial lines that trees were there and had to be dealt with when repair and maintenance were required. They chose to wire the homes and provide electrical services with that FOREKNOWLEDGE ANYWAY.
COST OF DOING BUSINESS.
It's time their FREE RIDE at the expense of the property owners IS ENDED.
I'll post again to let you know the outcome.
Like all of you, I'm interested in "fair and equitable". No more, No less.
In the meantime, I suggest that people start calling the NC Utility Commission ( or your particular state Utilities oversight department) and express STRONG belief that tree removal/trimming to access equipment is simply a COST OF DOING BUSINESS for DUKE ENERGY, not an expense they can continue to foist off on homeowners. After all and God knows, they charge ENOUGH for their service.