11/30/08 — With revaluation, Duplin Commission expected to discuss new taxes

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With revaluation, Duplin Commission expected to discuss new taxes

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 30, 2008 2:00 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin commissioners are expected to adopt a new property value schedule and discuss a new tax rate during their regular meeting Monday.

But first, a new commissioner, Frances Parks of Calypso, will take the oath of office, and the board is expected to elect a chairman and vice chairman.

Also taking the oath will be re-elected Commissioners David Fussell, Zettie Williams and Reginald Wells.

The meeting in the county administration building will begin with a public hearing on a Community Development Block Grant application for water and sewer hook-ups where there are lines available but residents have not yet tied into the system.

Then, after the board takes its new form with Mrs. Parks and a new chairman, the commissioners will consider several actions before getting down to the matter of property values and taxes.

At 1 p.m., tax administrator Gary Rose and Bob Pearson of Pearson's Appraisal Service will present the new property value schedule and a timetable for adoption to the board.

Rose told commissioners recently the new property value schedule must be adopted before the first of the year. It's a long process, and once the new schedule is adopted, the tax office has to advertise it for four weeks. If nobody appeals the schedule, Rose can send out the value notices the first or second week in January.

Then come the informal hearings that precede the May 2009 meetings of the Board of Equalization and Review. And there is recourse after that. If a property owner is still not happy, he or she can appeal to the state Property Tax Commission.

Commissioner David Fussell wants the board to adopt a revenue-neutral tax rate.

Warsaw Mayor Win Batten recently explained to commissioners that in 2003, the state General Assembly passed a new law saying each taxing unit in the state must publish in its budget a revenue-neutral tax rate.

When a tax rate is revenue neutral, that means the tax rate has been adjusted up or down to generate the exact same amount of tax revenue that the old values generated during the current year.

Batten said with the new values coming out now, the county's 79-cent rate would have to be adjusted down to about 63 cents per $100 of property value by his estimates in order to be revenue neutral.

Having the revenue-neutral tax rate included in the budget document, however, does not mean the budget has to be revenue-neutral. It just means the taxpayers must be allowed to see what the rate would be if it were revenue-neutral.

Fussell wants the rate revenue-neutral. The printed agenda does not reflect an expected vote on the matter.

At this point, County Manager Mike Aldridge said he doesn't know if a 63 cent tax rate would be revenue neutral.

"It would be impossible to tell until the schedule of values is adopted," he said. "But as of Sept. 30, the end of the first quarter, we have spent $4.2 million from the fund balance."

He said $3.3 million was included in the budget as of July 1 to balance the budget, and $800,000 was allocated in September to the Duplin County Board of Education during mediation in an attempt to avoid the law suit.

But that didn't work. The school system sued the county anyway, and in September, a jury awarded the schools $4.7 million in additional county money for current operating expense. And on Oct. 15, the county appealed the decision. Action on the appeal is pending.