Cumberland County local government officials have known property values were falling for the last eight years, but apparently were unable to stop the plunge. The downturn was first noticed during the appeal process following the release of 2009 property values. “We weren’t expecting it. It kind of happened all of a sudden,” said Tax Administrator Joe Utley. The 2009 revaluation was published toward the tail end of The Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. It began with the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble. The resulting loss of wealth led to sharp cutbacks in consumer spending combined with financial market chaos which led to a collapse in business investment.
“Although other communities in our state have seen significant growth since the recession, Cumberland County’s economy continues with a pattern of weak growth,” said County Manager Amy Cannon early last year. She primarily blames a reduction of troops at Fort Bragg. During the recession, the military was still at full strength, she said, and that kept sales tax revenues up and property values had not been affected. “The local economy thrives during major conflicts,” Cannon said, noting that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still going strong. When soldiers return from deployments they spend a lot of money “so our sales tax revenues were up while other counties surrounding us saw a significant drop in their sales tax,” added Cannon.
Utley noted that sales tax revenues began dropping off in 2011. Add to that a decline in the number of soldiers at Fort Bragg. “It doesn’t take a huge fluctuation in military contractors or troops to have an effect on our economy,” Cannon noted. County officials say a net loss of about 2,000 troops began the downward spiral in local consumer spending. “Our sales tax revenues remain stagnant” as property values continue to decline, the manager added. Cannon said in 2014 the county began doing serious research trying to figure out what to do about the reduction of property values and a correlated lack of population growth.
County Commissioners “look to us for solutions and options,” said Cannon. A significant disadvantage for Cumberland County is that 74 percent of the tax base is residential as opposed to industry and commerce. “The downturn in property values was scattered rather than concentrated, said Utley. “From our perspective, it’s very difficult to compare our county with any other community,” Cannon said. “We struggle with that.” Because Fort Bragg’s land area is not taxable, we are unique. Our tax base per capita is significantly lower than other metropolitan areas,” she noted. The Fayetteville / Fort Bragg community lost another 1,900 troops in the last couple of years because of federal sequestration.
But, there is hope for the future. Cannon says the growth of downtown Fayetteville will spur the economy because that’s where millennials want to live. “We are better known today among developers and site selectors than we were just two years ago,” Cannon insisted. “I just believe we have some real opportunities for economic development.”
Tax Administrator Utley points to “$70 million in growth this past year – nine new shopping centers, three new hotels and three apartment complexes.” Utley’s expectations for economic growth include distribution, back office development such as business incubators, warehousing and minor textile sectors. Cannon believes there will be new growth at Fort Bragg. The FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act raises the Army’s end strength to just over a million soldiers for all components, according to Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. “We’re not in a drawdown anymore; we’re in an increase situation,” Dailey added.