Sylva, Jackson pass budgets
The boards governing Sylva and Jackson County both passed budget ordinances this month that feature a change in tax rate, but the rate adjustments and levels of consensus differed considerably between the two.
On Tuesday, June 15, Jackson County Manager Don Adams presented a budget ordinance totaling $78,942,885 — identical to the total amount in his recommended budget last month — that is based on a property tax rate of 36 cents per $100 of value. That rate is less than the 38 cents per $100 currently in effect, but given the results of this year’s property revaluation, it will yield a higher total revenue than the revenue-neutral rate of 34.47 cents per $100. The budget represents a 6.27% increase over the 2020-21 adopted budget but a 2% decrease over the amended budget.
Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the budget, with little discussion. However, Commissioner Mark Jones approvingly noted that it would tie Jackson with Swain County for the state’s second-lowest tax rate. Based on 2020-2021 rates , only Carteret County had a lower rate than the one soon going into effect in Jackson County, at 33 cents per $100.
The tenor was different on the Zoom call where Sylva adopted its budget on Thursday, June 10.
Town Manager Paige Dowling presented a budget worth 18 percent more than the one adopted last year. It includes a tax rate increase of 1.5 cents per $100 of property value — an even tax rate would still have yielded a 7.86% increase — and $400,000 in American Rescue Plan funding.
The tax rate increase is intended to offset the cost of hiring an additional police officer and part-time sanitation worker. The increase has proven controversial in Sylva, with multiple people speaking against it during the public comment period in recent months and Commissioner David Nestler staking himself out as the lone board member opposing the proposal.
“We’re seeing an increase in our budget regardless from (the revaluation), and I do not think we should raise taxes in addition to people having to pay more,” he said during an April 29 work session.
Nestler is of the opinion that the town could trim enough money from its budget to offset at least half a cent from the proposed 1.5-cent tax increase, though he allowed that adding another police officer — a measure he argued was unnecessary — would require a rate increase. Prior to the vote June 10, he pointed out that unexpectedly strong sales from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board meant the town would receive an additional $160,000 in the coming year. Should those dollars be included in the budget, he asked?
“We’ll appropriate that in after we receive the funds,” said Dowling.
“Their budget’s approved, right?” Nestler responded. “If we pulled the funds in now, we could probably use it to offset some of the tax increase, couldn’t we?”
“That’s a one-time appropriation that they’re sending to us, and when we built the budget theirs wasn’t approved yet,” she replied.
One-time appropriations aren’t seen as responsible funding sources for recurring expenses like salaries. However, Nestler asked, couldn’t the money be used to offset some one-time expenses included in the budget, freeing up other dollars for the new salaries? Dowling’s response was that would be possible, but the town would likely end up needing to put the extra money toward an expensive road repair project it has coming up this year on Allen Street .
Ultimately, the budget passed 4-1, with Nestler as the sole no vote.
After the vote, Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh spoke on her reasons for favoring the rate increase.
“In 2013 when I got onto this board, on every single year the overtime was pretty intense for the police department, and every year they’ve asked for another officer and we have declined their request,” she said. “So I think this was a building request that didn’t just come from Chief (Chris) Hatton. It came from (former chief) Davis Woodard , it came from (former chief) Tammy Hooper . It’s something that we’ve denied a lot of times, and I’m really disappointed that it had to come the year that we did the tax evaluation and changed things, because it did hit a lot of people in a way that was unfortunate, and I think every board member here feels the same way.”
While she felt the same way as Nestler about using the ABC money to offset the need for a tax increase, Gelbaugh said, the board would be in the same position next year if it didn’t “just bite the bullet now.”
“The Allen Street factor was huge,” she said.
Nestler thanked Gelbaugh for her comments but said he didn’t believe the overtime figures were related to a staff shortage, but rather to the continued need for training and the fact that an officer who gets a call during the last 30 minutes of his shift will need to stay past his scheduled time, regardless of staffing levels.
“It’s not an easy call, and I think it’s a very bad year to be increasing taxes,” he said. “That’s why I voted against it. I didn’t like where we aligned our priorities in the budget, either.”
The budgets for Jackson County and Sylva are now fully adopted and will go into effect July 1.
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Ok did anyone else see the 38 cent tax that's in effect and then a 42.5 cent tax that's in effect how are there two different property tax rates in effect at the same time all this seems very misleading to keep everyone confused.