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Values fall; taxes rise

GATESVILLE – If a proposal pitched by County Manager Natalie Rountree is approved, property owners in Gates County will see their ad valorem tax rate rise by roughly nine percent.

If there is any silver lining in that bad news, it comes in the fact that the tax hike will be assessed on lower property values.

At the May 3rd regularly scheduled meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners, Rountree said a mandated revaluation of all property in the county led to decreased values. In lieu of those lower property values, the ad valorem tax rate would need to rise from its current 68 cents (per $100 of value) to 76 cents.

“The revenue neutral rate (property taxes needed to generate the same amount of revenue used in the current year’s budget) is 75 cents (based on the lower property values due to revaluation),” Rountree stated. “I am recommending a tax rate of 76 cents.”

In a later interview, Rountree said a 75-cent tax rate would not generate enough funding.

“We would have to collect every single penny of the taxes due to the county at that (75-cent) rate,” she said. “I’m not aware of any county in the state that collects 100 percent of the property and motor vehicle taxes due to that county. We’ve set our collection rate at 98 percent.”

During that same interview, Rountree said revaluation showed that the total estimated property values in the county (real estate and vehicles) is $860,251,071. That represents a nine percent decrease over the current year’s total property assessment ($948,845,346). 

Among the highlights of the proposed budget, Rountree said the total budget is $15,520,549 of which $11,726,544 is General Fund. Both those figures are higher than the current year budget: $14,117,381 and $11,176,697 respectively.

When asked about those increases, Rountree said $559,500 is newly budgeted money from the revised distribution formula for Article 44 state sales tax, covering the increase from the current year’s General Fund budget compared to the proposed 17-18 budget.

The total budget is 1.4 million higher than current year.

Taking that $559,500 into consideration, that leaves an increase in the total budget of $843,668. When asked by this newspaper where that money is budgeted, Rountree pointed to several areas.

“That money takes into account grants we receive that are specific to a department,” she said. “DSS (Department of Social Services) and the Cooperative Extension office receive grants every year that must be attributed specifically to those departments.

“I have also budgeted a one-time expense of $314,500 for new computer software for our Finance, Customer Service, Tax, and Inspections offices,” Rountree added.

Other financial drivers within the budget include one new part-time and one new full-time Tele- communications positions. Those positions are part of a requirement by the State 911 Board.

Also, Rountree is recommending a one percent cost of living adjustment within the salaries of all Gates County local government employees, including elected officials and the County Manager. Rountree said this will cost (with benefits) $39,625 and can be taken from the Governing Body Miscellaneous line item as well as from the Water Fund.

Additionally, Rountree said beginning with the 2016 employee evaluation, the county’s local government workers were eligible for merit raises.

“I am recommending merit raises for all employees that are eligible and were recommended by department heads to receive them. This has been included in the departmental budgets,” Rountree said.

For departmental expenditures, Rountree said many departments and agencies received full funding requests. As for Gates County Public Schools, their current expense funding from the county remains at $2,709,000. However, the capital outlay for the school system increases based on the new distribution formula for Article 44 state sales tax. That “new money” (the $559,500 as mentioned earlier) is mandated by the state to be used for public schools, community colleges, or economic development.

“For the FY2017-2018 budget, using FY17 estimates, $559,500 is being budgeted as follows for public schools: $100,000 for Gates County Public Schools Capital Outlay

This amount with $200,000 from the General Fund will give the Gates County Public Schools a total of $300,000 for capital outlay,” Rountree noted. “As for the remaining $459,500 in Article 44 taxes, that will be placed into the School Capital Reserve Fund for future debt incurred on the Central Middle School project.”

A cost-saving measure in the proposed budget comes in the health insurance plan that covers the county’s employees. Rountree said those rates have decreased by 10 percent by switching to Cigna. That switch also resulted in the deductible being lowered for employees from $5,000 to $2,500.

To balance the Solid Waste budget, Rountree said she is recommending an increase in the monthly fee from $15 to $20 a month. There are an estimated 4,500 landfill accounts. A 75 percent collection rate she said will result in the Solid Waste budget being balanced.

Concerning the proposed budget, citizens are invited to make oral comments at a public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 15 in the courtroom of the Gates County Courthouse.

The proposed 2017-2018 budget is available for public inspection with the Clerk to the Board, Melissa Lawrence, in the County Manager’s Office at 200 Court Street, Gatesville, as well as on the county’s website. A copy of the budget is also available for viewing at the Gates County Public Library.

If approved, the ad valorem tax rate in the county will stand 12 cents higher than in 2014-15. At that time it was 64 cents (per $100 of value). Upon a request from Gates County EMS and Rescue for a $325,000 funding hike to take effect for the current budget year (2016-17), the property tax rate was increased four cents to the current 68 cents.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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