12/20/06 — Duplin Commission eyes cutting county's tax rate

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Duplin Commission eyes cutting county's tax rate

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on December 20, 2006 1:45 PM

ROSE HILL -- The Duplin County Board of Commissioners wants to lower taxes, but not quite yet.

Voting on an unexpected agenda item Monday night at their meeting at Town Square in Rose Hill, the commissioners split on the issue of directing the county manager to begin preparing a budget based on a 79-cent-per-$100-value property tax rate.

The current rate is 80.5 cents.

The motion was proposed by new Commissioner Cary Turner. Fellow new Commissioner Harold Raynor seconded the motion and board Chairman David Fussell also voted in support.

Commissioners L.S. Guy, Reginald Wells and Zettie Williams voted against the proposal.

Turner explained that he was making the motion to direct county Manager Mike Aldridge to begin preparing a budget based on the lower rate because of recent additions to the county's property tax base.

In recent weeks several county businesses -- House of Raeford, Duplin Winery, United Cold Storage, Moulding Solutions and Accu-Form Polymers -- have announced expansions. According to the information provided by those companies and his own math, Turner said the county is looking at a significant increase in its tax base.

"We're looking at $99 million being added to our tax base," he said. "In light of this information, I feel justified in saying we could reduce the tax rate.

"That was one of the promises I made to the people, that I would lower the tax rate. I think this is a step in the right direction."

Fussell also performed some quick calculations and came to the conclusion that even if the tax rate is lowered to 79 cents, because of the base increase, the county will still come out more than $780,000 ahead next year.

"We're going to have more money coming into the county even if we reduce the tax rate and I'm a firm believer that a decreased tax rate will increase economic activity," he said. "I think it's a very responsible move at this time."

Those voting against it, however, emphasized that while they, too, are hoping to lower taxes in the coming year, they did not feel it was the responsible thing to do Monday night. It is rare for county commissioners to discuss taxes until budget work starts in the spring. Counties have to have a budget in place, including a tax rate, by July 1.

Guy, Wells and Ms. Williams said they were concerned because the county's finance officer had not had the opportunity to verify Turner's and Fussell's numbers, the county's fiscal advisory committee has not yet made its recommendations and because of questions about the status of the county's fund balance.

"I think we are premature tonight in proposing this motion," Wells said. "I'm all for lowering the tax rate. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but I think we need to hear from the county manager and this committee.

"We need to talk. I'm willing to decrease the tax rate when its the proper time, but I think it's too early."

The fiscal advisory committee is made of up Duplin County residents appointed by the commissioners to examine the county's budget, its spending practices and its budget process.

And, Guy continued, once they hear from county staff and the advisory committee, it might be that they can reduce taxes even further to the much-discussed rate of 77 cents per $100 value.

For Turner, however, the three to three tie vote Monday was somewhat disappointing.

"It was not saying that's the way it's going to be," he said. "Give Mr. Aldridge something to work with. I don't believe you should establish a budget and then adjust the tax rate. I believe you should establish the tax rate and then budget accordingly."

The commissioners did agree to ask the fiscal advisory committee to make its recommendations at their Jan. 16 meeting and they are expected to revisit the tax issue before county staff begin preparing a 2007-08 budget.

Also Monday, the commissioners recognized five county recipients of the Governor's 2006 North Carolina Outstanding Volunteer Service Award -- Rudolph Becton of Magnolia for his work with senior citizens, Jane Dempsey of Beulaville for her work with abused and neglected children, Cecil Langley of Calypso for his 22 years on the Duplin County Planning Board, Violette Phillips of Warsaw for her 31 years on the Duplin County Planning Board and the Stanford-Duplin County Extension & Community Association for its work in Duplin County.