06/06/11 — County budget has tax hike

View Archive

County budget has tax hike

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 6, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County property owners can expect to pay more in taxes should county commissioners agree to a 2.35 cent increase in the property tax rate that is included in the county's proposed $158 million budget.

For a person with property valued at $100,000, the increase would mean an additional $23.50 for the year. However, for people living outside municipalities, the increase would be offset somewhat by a $15 reduction in the solid waste user fee, from $60 to $45.

The proposed budget maintains the county's hiring freeze, except for essential personnel such as fire, rescue and law enforcement, and does not provide for across-the-board pay increases.

The proposal is expected to be unveiled at the commissioners' Tuesday meeting. An agenda briefing will start at 8 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the Wayne County Courthouse. The meeting will start at 9 a.m.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held June 21 at 9:15 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room.

As a result of the recently completed countywide property revaluation, the state requires the county to advertise a revenue-neutral rate -- a rate that is estimated to produce revenue for the next fiscal year equal to the revenue for the current fiscal year if no reappraisal had occurred.

The rate is then adjusted by a growth factor equal to the average annual percentage increase in the tax base due to improvements since the last general reappraisal in 2003.

Using the state formula, the revenue-neutral rate for Wayne County would be 70.25 cents per $100 worth of property value. However, the budget lowers the current property tax rate from 76.4 cents to 72.6 cents with a tax base of $7,159,297,234 which in effect is an increase of 2.35 cents.

The difference is needed to cover the cost of future debt service and to make up for state and federal budget cuts, County Manager Lee Smith said.

The tax levy is anticipated to bring in $45,434,748, or about 48 percent of the total county revenues. State and federal funds make up 16 percent of the revenues; sales and use taxes, 14 percent; and fund balance, 9 percent. The remaining 13 percent is listed as other sources.

The budget proposal reflects an increase of almost $2 million from the current budget of $156 million.

Smith said that the proposal invests in needed infrastructure -- the new senior services facility, the new Mount Olive area library, Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle schools and the construction of the new 20-plus-acre landfill cell.

The budget includes $13.5 million to renovate county-owned property on William Street to house the Health Department and $3.850 million to renovate the old Belk's building in Mount Olive to house Steele Memorial Library.

Education expenditures account for 23 percent of the proposed general fund operating budget.

Those costs include about $21 million for the public schools and about $3.5 million for Wayne Community College.

Capital projects include $8.9 million for renovations at Norwayne Middle School and $6.1 million at Eastern Wayne Middle School.

The budget also includes $18 million for current expense for the schools; $587,000 for Edgewood Developmental School; and $150,000 for WISH -- the same as in the current budget.

Capital outlay is down slightly from about $2.4 million to $2 million.

The totals for Wayne Community College are $2.99 million for current expense and $495,714 for capital outlay.

Human services account for the biggest slice of expenditures at 27 percent followed by public safety, 23 percent; general government, 14 percent; utilities, 6 percent; debt service, cultural/recreational and economic and physical development, 2 percent each; and transportation, 1 percent.

"The outlook for the county's financial condition can be characterized as cautiously optimistic as we see the first signs of what is expected to be a slow recovery," Smith wrote in his budget message to commissioners. "While some revenue sources are experiencing flat or declining revenues, others are showing early signs of improvement. We cannot be sure if or when revenue growth will return to historical levels if ever, which makes planning for the future speculative and maintenance of reserve funds even more critical at this time."

However, not all county services will remain the same and as reductions in staff and spending continue, the impact will be felt by citizens, he wrote. Those possibilities include:

* Reductions in library hours and locations

* Delays in response to emergency medical calls while maintaining the 8 minute or less average

* Possible delays in law enforcement response due to expanding population and higher number of 911 calls

* Longer lines in health and human service areas, etc.

"These are just a few examples of impacted areas; however, our focus remains on providing high quality service, provided in a professional manner and as quickly as possible," Smith said in his budget message. "As the state continues to suffer from lost revenues, cost shifting to counties continues to loom over us."