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Wednesday, 21 February 2007 00:00

Haywood leaders say tax hike a possibility to meet needs

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Haywood County commissioners suggested they could be amenable to a slight property tax increase this year if there is something really important they want the money for.

 

There has not been a property tax increase in Haywood County in four years.

“I don’t know of anything I pay for that has not gone up in that period of time,” said Commissioner Chairman Larry Ammons.

A few things the commissioners want to do: building expansion and repairs at Haywood Community College, improvements to ball fields, building repairs for the local school system, and a farmland preservation program.

The county commissioners held a workshop last month to talk about priorities for the year. The county is in the early stages of crafting a budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts in July.

Over the next few months, county departments and agencies will be putting together wish lists for the coming budget year. The wish lists will inevitably be pared down. But unlike last year, when county commissioners made it clear up front that a tax increase was off the table, this year commissioners said they will approach the budget with an open mind.

“I’m all for setting the needs and looking at the tax rate relative to that,” Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick said at the workshop. “I don’t look at the tax rate and then say we have to fall within that.”

“We need to look at needs and let that drive us,” agreed Commissioner Bill Upton.

Even Commissioner Skeeter Curtis, who ran his campaign last fall on a platform of relieving taxes on the elderly, agreed.

“We may need to add some things to that budget,” Curtis said.

The property tax rate in Haywood County is currently 49 cents per $100 of property value. A one-cent increase in the property tax rate would generate an extra $615,000 a year.

If the commissioners keep the tax rate the same, they will still have quite a bit of new money to spend. With each new house that goes up, there’s a new property tax payer. All that new construction will bring in an extra $1 million in property taxes in the coming year, estimated County Finance Director Julie Davis.

The commissioners decided Haywood Community College was the top priority that would drive a property tax increase. They hope to fund building renovations and expansion at the college with a half-cent sales tax, but it hinges on permission from the state legislature and would then go to a countywide vote. The commissioners hope the public would vote “yes” for a half-cent sales tax dedicated for the community college, that would sunset after a few years. But what if it doesn’t?

“If we didn’t get the half cent sales tax for the community college, we need to have a fall back for plan B. We do need to be thinking about that,” Ammons said. “If the people don’t approve it, the place doesn’t go away.”

“We’re going to have to have a plan B,” Upton agreed.

Commissioner Mary Ann Enloe agreed that the community college needs had been put off for too long.

 

Tax Rates by County

When comparing tax rates between counties, the numbers seem all over the map at first glance. How does Jackson County manage with a 36 cent tax rate when Haywood’s is 49 cents?

That’s where you have to read between the lines, Haywood County Manager David Cotton explained at a recent budget workshop with county commissioners.

In addition to the tax rate, look for the total property value in the county. If you add up the value of all the homes, land and businesses, Jackson County’s total property value comes in higher than Haywood’s, likely due to the high dollar values assigned to property in the Cashier area. The same holds true for Macon County, likely due to the big ticket property values in Highlands. The larger the total property value in a county, the more money a penny on the tax rate brings in, allowing the county to have a lower tax rate.

The population of a county is worth noting when comparing tax rates, but can be misleading. Second-home owners don’t show up in a county’s population data, but they still draw on county services. They do pay property taxes, but when comparing a county’s budget to its population base, it looks like the county is spending more per capita than it really is, because some of spending is actually on services for second home owners.

County Tax rate/Total property value/Population/County spending per capita

Haywood/49.5 cents/$4.87 billion/56,595/$1,213

Jackson/36 cents/$5.64 billion/35,752/$1,149

Macon/37 cents/$5.58 billion/24,580/$1,740

Swain/33 cents/$1.08 billion/13,585/$700

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