“We have a system that increasingly taxes work and subsidizes nonwork.”
Cumberland County Manager Amy Cannon is recommending an 8.2 cents increase in the county’s ad valorem property tax rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
When rural fire district and recreation taxes are added, the total tax rate for residents living in unincorporated areas of the county would come to 98.45 cents. That doesn’t include stormwater, solid waste, refuse, recycling fees or auto privilege taxes, some of which may also go up.
Cannon is proposing an eight-dollar increase in the solid waste fee paid annually by homeowners. Property owners in cities and towns do not pay fire district taxes. Some towns ask their residents to pay recreation taxes; some do not. All the municipalities add their ad valorem property tax rates ranging from 15 cents per hundred in Falcon to just shy of 50 cents in Fayetteville.
Cannon determined the revenue-neutral tax rate to offset tax revenue losses in the county is 78.2 cents. The losses amounted to $4.8 million.
Cannon applies the term “revenue neutrality” to the county’s total tax base. But depending on individual residential or commercial values, actual taxes paid will be anything but neutral. Among North Carolina’s eight largest metropolitan areas, Cumberland County stands alone in a decline of property values. “Locally, we continue to struggle with weak economic conditions,” Cannon stated in her budget message.
She noted that sales tax collections were down significantly from 2008 to 2011. But they’ve been trending at pre-recession levels since then. Looking back, the manager cited “limited natural growth in property tax values over the last ten years.” Nowhere in her budget document does Cannon mention that the Cumberland County Tax Administration Office spotted an apparent downturn in property values immediately following the previous revaluation in 2009, which became a trend.
Cannon told county commissioners earlier this year she didn’t begin taking that into account until about 2014. “Our local economy is very sensitive to troop deployments,” Cannon noted. She did not mention that redeployments from battlefields to Fort Bragg routinely result in positive economic surges. She said there has been an estimated loss of 5,000 personnel since 2012.
Cannon is proposing nearly $6 million in expenditure reductions. Forty-one full-time positions and 49 part- time jobs would be eliminated. Thirty-seven of the positions are vacant. Significant budget cuts are proposed in human services, except those mandated by state law. There will be cuts in the hours of operation of county libraries but none will be closed. Funding of so-called non-governmental outside agencies will be cut in half, and no new agencies will be accepted for funding.
County Commission Chairman Glenn Adams adjourned the meeting immediately following Cannon’s presentation. Commissioners began a series of budget workshops May 30. They’re prepared to meet through June 14 if needed but must adopt the FY18 budget by July 1.
Photo: Cumberland County Manager Amy Cannon