HALIFAX - Residents of Wallace Fork and Brandy Creek will have to wait a little while longer to find out if the county will refund what they called "illegal taxes" paid after being annexed into the city of Roanoke Rapids.

Peter Gilbert, of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, represented the group in front of Halifax County commissioners this week, following a letter sending effort by the group to commissioners, the city of Roanoke Rapids and Weldon City Schools requesting a refund of taxes paid from 2007 to 2010.

Gilbert said residents are not asking for a no-tax stance, simply the difference in what they feel was an illegally inflated land value between 2007 and 2010 and the correct values.

Wallace Fork and Brandy Creek residents didn't know they were being annexed in 2006, and the tax office illegally taxed them, using a different method of assessment to come to tax values for that area when reassessments were made, accoridng to Gilbert.

He said the increased property values did not reflect the true market values, adding property values in that area jumped on average of more than 770 percent after the annexation during a frenzy of speculative activity surrounding the development of an entertainment district around The Roanoke Rapids Theatre.

The methods used violated the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina and U.S. Constitutions, Gilbert told commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioners went into closed session to discuss the issue, eventually agreeing to take no action.

Commissioner Chair James Pierce said commissioners wanted to talk with Roanoke Rapids City Council members and the Weldon school board and will revisit the matter at their Jan. 23 meeting.

Outside the meeting room, Louise Williams, leader of the residents' group, said residents were disappointed commissioners rendered no decision.

"They had enough time to talk about this and get it right," she said. "We'll be at the (Jan. 23) meeting."

Kathy Harris said in the face of the increased property values, she had to sell her mobile home and move away so she could pay the inflated taxes. She said her life has completely changed because of the tax value changes.

Gilbert spoke with residents who attended the meeting in the hall. He said the county could choose to refund them individually or collectively or not to give a refund at all.

He said (commissioners) have 90 days from Nov. 1, when the letter was sent, to decide whether or not to give the refund. After that time, residents can decide whether to pursue the issue in court.

Gilbert said there is no promise the School of Civil Rights will represent residents if they go to court.

"I hope on (Jan. 23), they will give an answer," he said. "I hope they opt to do the right thing. Neither Weldon nor Roanoke Rapids have given us any response other than letting us know they received the letters."

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