Brass taxes

First Posted: 7/5/2010

County officials are planning an educational campaign on the Aug. 3 referendum during which voters will be asked whether they want to approve a quarter-cent hike in the sales tax in exchange for a 2-cent drop in the county property tax rate. Although by law the county cant favor a position on the referendum, its plain the Board of Commissioners wants the sales tax hike approved or the option wouldnt be provided.
Property owners are already feeling educated given the recent revaluation, and their mood might be such that they prefer to pay more at the cash register and less at the tax window. That has already happened at a handful of counties across the state, where residents have voted to raise the sales tax on themselves.
We have always cautioned our readers not to confuse revaluation of county property with a tax hike, but this year that is exactly what revaluation was a not-so-secret way for local governments to take more money from property owners.
When the new fiscal year began Thursday, Fairmont, Lumberton, Maxton, Pembroke, Red Springs, Rowland and St. Pauls were all operating with new budgets that maintained the tax rate from the previous year; Robeson County was the exception, dropping its tax rate by a single penny in a move that was more for style than substance.
Because tax rates were maintained, property owners will be digging deeper to meet their obligation. According to county officials, the revaluation added about 8 percent to the countys tax base, some of which was accounted for by growth, but most of which is higher values.
Therefore, the owner of a $150,000 home in Lumberton that was revalued at $162,000, an 8 percent increase, will pay an additional $57.60 in taxes to the city, which kept a 63-cent rate, and an additional $79.80 to the county, whose rate dropped from 80 cents to 79. That is an additional $137.40 a year and it comes during a troubled economy, when private spending is fiercely needed.
Despite the additional revenue, the budgets that were adopted locally were remarkably lean. For the most part, they didnt include cost-of-living raises, didnt finance major capital projects, and didnt include new employees. The countys eliminated some vacant positions and will freeze others as they become vacant.
The forecast for 2011 is that the budgets will be even more difficult.
The bottom line is that revaluation means that property owners in this county will pay more for services that are enjoyed by all the county residents. The Aug. 3 referendum provides residents an opportunity to spread that obligation more evenly.

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