06/29/05 — Tax raised 7.5 cents

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Tax raised 7.5 cents

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 29, 2005 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to increase the property tax rate by 7.5 cents, from 66 cents to 73.5 cents per $100 worth of property.

County officials said most of the increase in tax revenue is needed to keep up with mounting expenses and to prevent further reduction of the county's reserve accounts.

Commissioners defended the tax hike, saying it was a difficult decision but one they felt they had to make to keep the county in good financial shape.

"I said I wasn't going to vote to raise taxes unless it was necessary," said Commissioner Bud Gray, who is serving his first term as commissioner.

Gray noted that the increase will cost him an additional $2,000 in taxes.

Commissioner Efton Sager said most taxpayers do not understand the financial burden of running a county.

"It comes at a cost," Sager said. "I've had heartburn about this, and lost sleep."

But Sager said he believed County Manager Lee Smith provided commissioners with a fair budget. Smith had originally proposed a 10-cent increase but commissioners pared it to the increase approved Tuesday.

Sager, a Republican, said he knew that some of his party members would be upset by his vote.

"There are people that want me to vote no because there's an "R" beside my name," he said. "But there are things that need to be done and I will support it (the budget) because it's the right thing to do."

Most of the tax increase will be used to pay increasing costs of Medicaid, the county jail, education and economic development efforts. Commissioners pulled $1.4 million from reserves last year to balance the budget. This year they took nothing from reserves.

Commissioner Andy Anderson, also a Republican, said approving the budget had been difficult because it was "hard to raise taxes on people."

But, Anderson said, the county cannot keep up economically without planning for the future.

Commissioner John Bell said he asked citizens what services or programs they would cut out of the budget.

"I got no answer," he said. "I hate taxes, but I can't think of another way. It's a fair budget."

Commissioner Atlas Price said he wanted to do what was best for the county.

"It's a needed thing," Price said. "If we cut the things out of the budget, people in Wayne County would be in worse shape."

Price said that people wanted services, but didn't want to pay for them.

Commissioner Jack Best said that no commissioner wanted to raise taxes. But he said commissioners cannot afford to let the county's financial situation deteriorate.

"We've studied the budget and we need to do this for the future of the county," he said. "So that we can stay ahead of the game."

Best said that there was a program, through the tax department, through which people could see if they qualified for exemptions from the property tax for hardship reasons.

Commissioner Chairman J.D. Evans said that the budget will "put the county on a progressive path."

The commissioners are also hoping the state will give them some local options to raise revenues, besides raising property taxes. They voted earlier this month to ask legislators take steps to permit the county to impose a license tag fee and 1-cent sales tax.

The money from the license tag fee would be used for incentives for economic development.

Smith said a $5 license tag fee could bring in $250,000 in its first year and a 1-cent sales tax increase could bring in $7 million.

Sager said he thought people would be happier to pay an additional 1-cent in sales tax, than continuously increasing the tax on property.