05/22/08 — County rejects state's call for 'help'

View Archive

County rejects state's call for 'help'

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 22, 2008 2:35 PM

Wayne County commissioners Tuesday morning voiced their suspicions about a state "voluntary" maintenance road program and their displeasure with a state property reappraisal initiative, both of which could end up costing the county money, they said.

Commissioners also renewed their opposition to another state law that restricts how the county can use revenues from the 911 emergency telephone system.

In all three cases the board adopted resolutions and instructed County Manager Lee Smith to share the resolutions and the board's concern with all of the state's counties and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

Smith said the three "big ticket" items would have an adverse impact on the county's bottom line.

The county originally had planned to use revenues from the 911 system to help finance the cost of a new emergency communications system. Commissioners also had been hopeful that voters would approve a quarter-cent increase in the local sales tax. That measure was soundly defeated in the May primary, leading the board to once again seek a reversal of the state's action on the 911 funds.

With the change those funds may be used for phones and equipment necessary to get a call into the system. However, they cannot be used for radios or other equipment for outgoing communications.

Smith said the county would have the money on hand to pay for a new emergency communications system if the state would allow the 911 money to be used.

"They can be used for incoming calls, but not outgoing," he said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Commissioners also were leery about the county getting into the road business.

House Bill 1513 would allow counties to "voluntarily" participate in the costs of transportation projects.

Commissioner Efton Sager said he was concerned that "voluntary" might end up being mandatory.

Smith said shifting such costs to the county would be "devastating."

A 12.5 cent to 15 cent increase in the tax rate would be required to pay for the program should the costs be shifted to the county, Smith added.

"We'd probably have a tax revolt," Commissioner Atlas Price said.

In their resolution commissioners said they "strongly oppose" any effort by the General Assembly or the N.C. Dept. of Transportation to shift any transportation costs formerly paid by the state to the counties.

It also "strongly opposes" any efforts by legislators "to appropriate local revenues whether property tax, sales tax or any other local revenue for state transportation programs or any other state program."

"I honestly think if you look at the state and funding issues for roads their funds are drying up," Smith said. "Pardon the pun, but you talk about passing the buck, we are talking about (passing) the bill to counties, that is what I think."

As for property reappraisal, Senate Bill 1309 would change the process from a flexible eight-year cycle to a mandatory four-year cycle. Currently, counties my reappraise property for tax purposes every four or eight years.

Smith said he thinks the proposal is the outgrowth of rapidly-growing areas like Raleigh and Charlotte.

"Legislators in those areas have got those issues where their businesses and their citizens say the re-evaluation needs to happen every four years," Smith said. "But you have that ability to do that now. You have been given the options why mandate."

Smith said a county can analyze its costs and needs to see if it is going to gain by going to four or six years or stay with eight years.

"If that is the case then that is what you are going to need to do," he said.

It costs Wayne County about between $1.1 million to $1.2 million to carry out the process. The county will start work this year on the next reappraisal that is scheduled for 2011.

Being forced to switch to a four-year cycle would mean that the county would have to add four or five employees just to work on the process.

"In Wayne County's case, it just does not make sense to do it every four years," Smith said.

During the last reappraisal the countywide increase in property value was 33 percent. Smith is forecasting only about 17 percent growth for the upcoming reappraisal.

"I hope I am wrong and it will be more, but based on the economy and sales I estimate a 17 percent gain," he said. "Based on that over the next four years it doesn't add up to do it again that quickly. It would just not pay off.

"Granted if things change and we've got lots of industries and homes being built then maybe it will, but not right now. The existing law allows us the option to change so let us keep that option."

In the resolutions commissioners said the change would place an "undue burden" on the county's property taxpayers because of increased costs associated with more frequent re-valuations.

They also complained that the bill "takes away" a county's ability to determine its own reappraisal schedule as " best fit its needs."