Two-cent tax hike proposed in Gates

Published 5:28 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022

GATESVILLE – Gates County property owners are facing an increase in their local taxes if a budget proposal made by County Manager Tim Wilson is adopted by the county commissioners.

Wilson has released his “budget message” for Fiscal Year 2022-23 to include a proposal that raises local property taxes to 81 cents per $100 of value. The current tax rate is 79 cents.

A public hearing on the FY23 budget will be held at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners. That meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 in the Historic Courthouse.

Wilson said the need the property tax increase is two-fold: to cover a proposed 5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all employees of Gates County local government as well as sustaining two new positions in the Sheriff’s Office and granting raises for most staff members working for the Sheriff. Those new positions and raises were approved by the commissioners in August of last year. That budget amendment ($122,952) was taken from the unassigned fund balance.

“[That] represents a 1.25 cent increase on the county tax rate to sustain,” Wilson noted in his budget message. “Therefore, the FY23 budget preparation did not begin with a 79 cents tax rate, but with an 80.25 cent tax rate.”

The remaining portion (less than one penny) of the proposed tax increase recommended by Wilson is to fund the across the board 5 percent wage hike for county employees, as well as a 10 percent COLA increase requested by the Gates County Rescue Squad for its personnel.

“The goal being promoted is to have the ability to retain and attract experienced and qualified employees,” Wilson stated. “Inflation and the dynamics of the current labor market require such effort and requires it now. In the furtherance of accomplishing this goal, a 5% cost of living adjustment increase for county employees is being recommended to help in alleviating their escalating cost of living. This increase is still only about two-thirds the actual rise in inflation depending on which consumer price index is being used.

“I am also supporting an even greater COLA increase requested by the Gates County Rescue Squad,” Wilson continued. “This proposal will also have the benefit of moving the county’s salary scale forward to be more in line and competitive in the prevailing labor market.

“While there are many needs in the county, the need I am recommending that priority attention be dedicated to is the compensation of county employees. While there are staffing and organizational needs that also need be addressed when it comes to human resources, this budget instrument focuses on compensation as a good place to start,” he added.

Wilson’s budget message also hinted that an additional penny on the property tax rate may be needed to cover the hiring of a Human Resource Director. He said the commissioners have approved the creation of that position and have it incorporated into the FY23 budget.

“The recommended budget to the board had already been prepared and printed at that time [of their approval of the new position],” Wilson noted. “Inclusion of this position will be discussed and determined during the board’s budget work sessions. It is approximated that salary, benefits, and other costs associated with this position would be the equivalent of a 1 cent increase on the real estate tax rate.”

Other staffing recommendations contained in the proposed budget include converting a vacant part-time custodian position to full-time; the reinstatement of a part-time Emergency Management assistant position; and the reclassification of an Income Maintenance caseworker to an Adult Protection Social Worker.

Wilson is proposing a total budget of $18,798,961 of which $14,276,306 is the General Fund. Other than the proposed property tax hike, there are no other fee increases in the FY22-23 budget nor was any money allocated from the unassigned Fund Balance.

Last year, the commissioners approved a total budget of $17,041,678 of which $12,665,218 was in the General Fund. The FY21-22 budget also included a four percent COLA for county employees.

“There are admittedly other wants and desires both large and small from multiple departments and agencies that I have not recommended for funding in this budget,” Wilson wrote in his message. “This should not be automatically viewed as a negative reaction [by] me on all these requests. It is rather a realization that while wants and desires are unlimited, resources to address them are not. My goal with this recommended budget was to put full emphasis on a necessity that happens to be the most crucial resource of the county organization or any organization – its people. As stated in my introduction, it’s due, it’s needed, and the time to act is now. I hope you agree.

“I would like to express my appreciation to the Board of County Commissioners for their participation and input in the budget process as well as to department directors and agency leadership for budget submission in a timely manner, and to the Finance Officer for her much appreciated contribution and assistance,” Wilson’s message concluded.

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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