County likely to approve tax hike
Fire taxes still up for discussion
After an informal vote Monday, May 23, Lincoln County commissioners appear ready to approve increasing the tax rate 2.8 cents – to 59.8 cents per $100 of assessed value – for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Commissioners George Arena, Jim Klein, Carl Robinson and Chairman Alex Patton all indicated that, while they’d prefer to keep the tax rate lower, they’re convinced County Manager George Wood and his staff have cut all the fat from the county’s budget.
Commissioner Carrol Mitchem disagreed.
“I’m not voting for anything other than a 57-cent rate,” which is the current tax rate, Mitchem told fellow board members at the budget review session Monday.
Mitchem wants to see county staff eliminate all but the bare essentials. “Only fund what counties are supposed to fund,” he said. “Start from the bottom (of the priorities) and work your way up.”
To keep the county’s current 57-cent tax rate, officials would have to cut another $2.2 million in county spending.
Arena challenged Mitchem’s stance, asking, “Where would you recommend we cut? Show us where. If you want to make cuts, you have to give some direction.”
During Monday’s meeting, commissioners heard from the Department of Social Services, Emergency Medical Services and Public Health that all reported cutting services to a bare minimum and providing only those that are necessary or required by the federal or state governments.
Mitchem asked why the county hadn’t considered furloughs as a way to save money.
Wood and the other commissioners all agreed they didn’t want to put any more strain on the county staff, and instead, Wood has proposed eliminating six full-time and two part-time positions.
“I would like to be at 57 cents, but I know we went years understaffed. The worse the economy gets, the more people need county services. I don’t want to not provide services the county is supposed to provide.”
Fire district taxes
Commissioner Klein said he is not satisfied with the proposed tax rates for the east Lincoln County fire districts.
The Denver Fire Department has asked for a revenue-neutral tax rate (see box below for explanation) of 10.99 cents per $100 assessed value, meaning the department is asking to increase its current rate of 9.675 cents. With the increase, the department would still get the same amount of funding as this year.
The East Lincoln Fire Department has asked for slightly more money for the next year, by increasing its tax rate from 6.06 to a 6.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. If commissioners approve the budget, the department will get about $36,000 more than this year.
But East Lincoln’s overall budget is still significantly lower – about $530,000 – than the Denver department’s.
Klein said East Lincoln has done a better job at working for less in the bad economy. “The issue I have with the Denver Fire Department is they’ve done nothing to recover after they lost the Catawba County revenue,” he said.
The East Lincoln and Denver departments “are comparable in their values that they protect, but Denver’s revenue has gone from 8 cents to 11 cents. In my opinion, given the situation we’re in, they haven’t made a good faith effort to cut some of the costs,” Klein said.
Klein said he would pursue some questions with Fire Chief Jay Flynn and report back to the board on his opinion.
“We’re doing everything we can for us to operate safely and provide a safe working environment for our staff, and also to provide a bare minimum of service for our community. Staffing is a fixed cost, we’re not trying to add any staffing but just trying to keep our head above water and hold our own in this economy,” Flynn said Thursday.
The county will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 6:30 p.m. June 6 during the regular Board of County Commissioners meeting.
Understanding the tax rate after revaluation
Amid the tax rate discussion and the recent revaluation, it’s difficult to make one statement about tax rates that reflects every homeowner’s incoming tax bill.
The county is proposing an increase in the tax rate, but an overall decrease in total revenue collected because countywide revaluation has resulted in a lower overall property value in Lincoln County.
The current tax rate is 57 cents per $100 of assessed value. The revenue-neutral tax rate – the rate at which the county would collect the same total revenue from property taxes as last year – is 60.95 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Instead, County Manager George Wood is recommending raising the tax rate 2.8 cents – to 59.8 cents per $100 of assessed value – and cut spending to make up the difference. Overall, the county will take in less money this year than last year.
However, a higher tax rate will affect individual property owners’ tax bills differently, depending on how the revaluation changed a property’s value. Property owners who saw their values increase will see a higher tax bill. Those who saw values go down might only see a slight increase or even a decrease on the tax bill.
For a property valued at $100,000 with no change in the revaluation, the tax bill is expected to increase by about $28.