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Wednesday, 08 February 2012 20:53

How much is a cell tower worth? Counties could be getting short end of the stick

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Haywood County might not be getting a fair shake from cell tower companies on their property taxes.

County commissioners learned this week that cell tower companies might be underestimating the value of their towers and equipment, and as a result, are likely paying less in county taxes than they should.

To remedy the problem, Haywood County is exploring bringing in an outside consultant to assess an accurate value on the 23 cell towers operating in the county.

Currently, the county relies on cell tower companies’ honesty when declaring the value of their equipment but has no way of being sure whether it is accurate.

“We didn’t have the ability to go out there and dispute it,” said David Francis, director of Haywood County’s Tax Department. “Frankly, we don’t have the expertise and the knowledge to do something like that.”

The county is considering hiring Cell Tower Solutions, a Georgia-based company, which does have the know-how to valuate cell towers and their related equipment.

If hired, Cell Tower Solutions would do a physical inspection of all 23 cell towers in the county and inventory the equipment connected to them. Cell towers should be revaluated about every three years, according the company’s website.

The audit would cost a total of $56,000, but it could result in an estimated $216,000 dollars in additional tax revenue each year.

“The issue for me is fairness,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. The cell companies should pay taxes based on the true value of their towers and equipment, but “We can’t determine the true value.”

Unlike taxing vehicles or homes, the county has no reference points by which valuate cell towers. And, the other problem is that a cell tower’s worth is based on what the cell service provider gets out of them — based on the volume of calls and data that move across the tower — not necessarily the materials that comprise them. Some towers are priced at a mere $5,000, while others are valued at near $350,000.

“It’s all over the place,” Francis said. “We need help with this.”

Five other North Carolina counties are in the process of hiring outside consultants to perform the cell tower evaluations, Francis said, adding that he has been negotiating with Cell Tower Solutions since October.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The Board of Commissioners seemed amenable to the idea.

“I don’t sense any objection on the board,” said Mark Swanger, chairman of the board.

Francis said he hopes to present a contract to the county commissioners early next month.

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