The Wayne County commissioners continue to wrestle over whether or not a property tax increase is needed, and if so, how much.
Commissioner Joe Gurley argued against the increase during the board's Tuesday morning session while others continued to support at least some level of increase.
Several agreed with Gurley that a quarter-cent sales tax would not only be a fairer tax, but would raise more money as well.
A penny on the county tax rate equates to about $800,000 while a quarter-cent sales tax would generate more than $2.4 million annually.
Commissioners received no direction from a no-show public for the budget hearing that took less than a minute -- no one showed up to comment.
County Manager Craig Honeycutt initially recommended a 2.65-cent property tax increase for fiscal year 2018-19.
That would increase the rate from 66.35 to 69 cents per $100 worth of appraised value and would be effective July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
However, during the meeting a possible increase of 1.25 cents was mentioned -- one of the options that could come before the board as the budget picture clears.
The board took no action other than to schedule another budget workshop for their meeting on Tuesday, June 19, in order to have a better grasp of how the new state budget will impact funding.
The proposed tax increase is needed primarily to cover the loss of low-wealth school funding, additional school resource officers, an increase in teacher supplements and to ease the demand on the budget's fund balance.
The budget includes $500,000 in new money to increase the local teacher supplement and $750,000 for four new school resource officers and equipment.
Another $800,000 in new money was initially budgeted to offset the lost low-wealth funding.
However, the state budget not only fully restores Wayne County's low-wealth school funding, it increases it by nearly $700,000 in recurring dollars over the current level.
Chairman Bill Pate said he and Honeycutt want to meet with House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell IV, R-Goldsboro, to clarify what is in the budget before the commissioners proceed.
Bell took the lead in getting the funding restored.
"I understand the difficulty of raising taxes," Commissioner Joe Daughtery said. "But this commissioner is proud of what this board has done over the last five years. It has really been remarkable, and we did that with a tremendous tax decrease that we put into effect the first year that we were in office."
Over the past five years, the county has been able to maximize its dollars while doing an exceptional job of moving the county forward, Daughtery said.
The budget proposal includes much-needed money for teacher supplements -- something that has been overlooked for years, he said.
That is $500,000 "right off the bat" that is needed, he said.
On top of that, another $500,000 is needed for the Department of Social Services that has suffered through years of underfunding, Daughtery said.
So, there are a number of issues, and not just the schools, driving in the tax issue, he said.
"Can we get by without a tax increase? Absolutely," Daughtery said. "Is it easier not to have a tax increase? Absolutely. Who wants to vote for a tax increase?
"But what you are going to end up doing is taking more money out of your savings account. That is all you are going to do. At some point, somebody is going to be sitting in this chair and is going to have to make that decision in order to increase taxes."
He said he is neither totally for or against a tax increase, but is open-minded and thinks the board needs to look at the pros and cons of a small tax increase.
Gurley, who missed the board's two budget work sessions because of illness, said he had been brought up to speed by Pate.
"But I am still not convinced that we need a tax increase," he said. "But I do not know all of the moving parts that you described."
Gurley said he was not being critical or saying that the board would not do an increase of 1.5 cent or more.
"But I am still not convinced and want to do some more looking to satisfy my own peace of mind," Gurley said. "Simply put, on the surface a 1.5-cent increase is going to cost ..."
It will be $15 per $100,000 of appraised value, Honeycutt said.
On a $200,000 house that would be $30, Gurley said.
"That doesn't sound like much, but when you talk about a senior citizen on a fixed income it could result in not getting medicine," he said.
Also, there are a lot of farmers in the county who have expensive equipment, and in recent years, farmers have not had good years, he said.
Gurley said if the board decides not to proceed with a tax increase that he would like for the county to consider a quarter-cent sales tax that would be a fair way for everybody to help with county shortfalls.
"We have looked at this tax increase real hard," Commissioner Wayne Aycock said. "I don't know about the rest of you but I have had several calls on the 2.65, and today we mentioned a 1.5, and that is quite an improvement."
The farming community is concerned about any increase at all, he said.
Commissioners may need to revisit department budgets and sharpen their pencils even more, he said.
Also, some projects that commissioners want to see happen may need to be looked at again as well, he said.
Commissioner John Bell, as he has done in the past, chided his fellow commissioners telling them that they can't have it both ways.
"You can't spend money and buy things -- somebody has got to pay for it if you do things," he said. "And we have been doing a lot of spending up here on this board.
"We cut taxes, which was good. But at the time that we cut taxes, I mentioned that we fall under that low-wealth thing, and if you cut it too much, it was going to make the state not give you money."
That is exactly what happened, he said.
"So you can't cut taxes just to cut taxes and keep spending," Bell said."You can cut yourself out of whatever you are trying to do."
Bell said no one on the board hates taxes more than he does.
"But if you spend money, you have got to get it from some place to pay for what you spend," he said. "So I don't quite get where you guys are coming from. You made all of those cuts, and you never checked to see what the state was going to do about that low-wealth thing."
Bell reminded commissioners that they had not acted on his motion at the first budget workshop last week to cut departments by 2 percent.
"So I don't know where you are going," he said.
Commissioner Ray Mayo said he agrees with the tax increase and that he thought Bell had hit the issue on the head.
When commissioners made the initial tax cuts in 2012, they did not say there would never be a time when an increase might be needed, or that the rate would never be returned to what it was prior to 2012, he said.