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Bumpy road for vehicle tax proposals

Canton’s proposed vehicle fee could be used to fill potholes like these, on Holtzclaw Road. Cory Vaillancourt photo Canton’s proposed vehicle fee could be used to fill potholes like these, on Holtzclaw Road. Cory Vaillancourt photo

With municipal budget season coming down to the wire and those municipal budgets coming down to the penny, two Haywood County town governments are hoping to avoid property tax increases by introducing vehicle registration fees. 

During the FY 2018-19 budgeting process earlier this year, the Town of Canton factored in to its revenues a $30 vehicle registration fee that would apply to all vehicles registered in the town, with the exception of government vehicles, non-motorized vehicles like trailers and the inventory of auto dealers. 

In similar fashion, the town of Waynesville has proposed a $15 vehicle fee. The town of Maggie Valley instituted a $5 vehicle fee several years ago in order to boost road maintenance funds. 

“Far and away,” said Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers, “most of the calls I get as mayor are about potholes.”

By law, the first $5 of the vehicle tax can be used for any purpose. The next $5 must be used for public transportation, if the town has such a system. The rest, up to the maximum of $30, must be used for streets or roads. 

“Fixed incomes don’t increase that often, but expenses do,” Canton-area pastor David Vos told the Canton board June 14. 

But Vos’ comments against Canton’s proposed fee are indeed a two way street; with a flat tax base and ever-increasing costs — notably personnel and insurance — governments must look wherever they can for revenue to maintain services. 

Canton’s fee would raise by Town Manager Jason Burrell’s estimate around $60,000, and Waynesville’s would raise about $147,000, per town documents. Both are right around the amount of money a 1-cent property tax increase would bring. 

Canton’s proposed 2018-19 budget again holds Haywood County’s highest property tax rate where it’s been since 2007 at 58 cents per $100, but again takes a large appropriation of fund balance to do so. 

Waynesville’s proposed 2018-19 budget asks for its second property tax increase in the past three years — 1 cent, that would raise the rate to 49.57 cents per $100 of valuation. 

Waynesville’s $15 request was met with minor opposition June 12 when two people spoke against it in the broader context of the budget hearing, but resistance in Canton was much greater during the town’s budget hearing June 14 and didn’t come strictly from the 40-odd members of the public, many of whom were there specifically to oppose it. 

“We missed our chance tonight,” said Alderman James Markey. “We missed our chance to tell the public exactly what this would be used for.” 

Markey’s comments seemed to be directed at Burrell, who has a list of priorities but couldn’t speak to them specifically without the formal approval by the board because the proposed $30 could still be revised downward or eliminated from the budget altogether at a subsequent public hearing.

Based on his observations, Markey voted against holding a public hearing on the vehicle tax at all, but was outvoted by the rest of the board. 

“I don’t like the idea of imposing additional financial expectations on Canton citizens any more than they have expressed a desire to bear them. With that in mind, I would have supported the vehicle fee even at the full amount at our last meeting if I had seen a clear case made as to how this additional funding would have a direct impact on our roads,” he said June 18. “Continuing infrastructure improvements was a main point of discussion during the campaign last fall, but so was transparency.”

Going forward, he explained, he expects that “if we are going to ask the citizens to bear additional financial responsibility, we will be able to point to how the additional funds will be used to the improvement of our town.”

Alderwoman Kristina Smith, who was elected during the same 2017 election as Smathers and Markey, seems to hold a view similar to Markey’s. 

“For this new vehicle tax, what I need is to know what — specifically — this will bring the Town of Canton’s citizens and — more importantly — what it could prevent us from doing — to improve our streets and sidewalks in the short and long-term if we went without,” Smith said. “$30 per registered vehicle is a tough pill to swallow, so what I need to know is what will $30 get us — what projects could we fund? And what would a lower amount result in? Overall, it comes down to the data.”

Both Canton and Waynesville will hold public hearings dedicated solely to the issue of the vehicle tax. Budgets must be passed by July 1, so if the proposals are revised or rejected, any streets-related expenditures stemming from the tax would also be revised or rejected. 

Markey said he will not be at the June 28 public hearing, citing a previously scheduled out-of-town trip. 

 

Be heard

A pair of public hearings next week will decide the fate of proposed vehicle taxes in Waynesville and Canton. The Town of Waynesville hopes to add a $15 fee, and the Town of Canton is proposing $30. Public hearings will be held in both towns to solicit citizen input. 

Canton

• Date: Thursday, June 28

• Time: 6:30 p.m. 

• Location: Stamey Municipal Building, 58 Park St., Canton

Waynesville

• Date: Tuesday, June 26

• Time: 6:30 p.m. 

• Location: Town hall, 9 South Main St., Waynesville 

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