04RevenueLast week I posted on social media that our city and county elected servants ought to review their proposed budgets together … in one room, sitting across the table from each other. I’m thinking if they sit down and compare what each is proposing, they can get a better understanding of what their proposed budgets will do to people they represent.

I got a lot of likes from the people — the voters, but nothing from our elected servants. I can understand that. They are a bit skittish about this year’s budget. To be fair, they are in a world of hurt. Reports are that most taxable property values in our county went down about 7 percent. So, each penny of property tax on $100 worth of property yields fewer tax dollars for both our city and county. And while you and I reduce our spending when money gets tight, the government doesn’t operate that way.

So, the county and city plan to raise their respective property tax rate to what government budgetcrats call “revenue neutral.” That means the rate will go up just enough to get the county and city the same amount it would have gotten before property values plummeted: from 74 cents to 78.4 cents for the county, and from 49.95 cents to 52.66 cents for the city. But then the county will add another 3.9 cents to pay for increases in this year’s budget, bringing the total county rate to 82.3 cents for every $100 worth of taxable property.

And don’t forget, the city manager also proposes to raise fees for collecting your garbage, recyclables and yard trash from $44 to $48, and stormwater fees from $45 to $51. Stormwater fees are supposed to be used by the city to alleviate flooding during heavy rains. That’s another subject all together.

But here is the kicker. Not everyone’s residential property value decreased. The revenue neutral hike will increase rates for those who didn’t see a drop in their property values for whatever reason. County commissioners and City Council members need to consider this hiccup in their budget decisions.

For example, let’s take a $150,000 house whose value did not change. The property tax increase that is supposed to be “revenue neutral” will increase the combined city and county property tax by $171.50.

My property value increased 1.3 percent. I thought it a fluke … an anomaly. I called five friends to check their revaluations. Three of the five had an increase larger than mine. One who had a decrease in his residential property value saw a 28 percent increase in his business property value.

Get this. His commercial property consists of three parcels. Two saw a significant increase in value that resulted in the 28 percent spike. The third parcel, which the state plans to take for a road widening project, decreased in value. That means the state will buy that parcel for a much lower price. I’m sure that was purely coincidental.

We can’t figure out why three of the five people in my social circle had their property values increase when all I’m hearing is about how property values decreased. I’m sure the more people I call, the more will probably say their property values decreased.

But I was curious, and so I headed to the Cumberland County Tax Record website to compare 2016 to 2017 property values in my neighborhood. Here is where it gets weird.

One neighbor’s property value decreased by $1,000. Two other neighbors’ property values increased by 3.1 and 1.4 percent. All the houses are within a stone’s throw of each other, and all were built around the same time.

Here’s the weirdest part: One house that has been in structural and aesthetic decline for several years increased in value by $4,000. The owner abandoned the house earlier this year. It’s an eyesore that guards the entrance into our small community. We reported it to the city, and they slapped a sign on the garage door asking the owner to clean the property. Did I say the owner abandoned the property? Go figure.

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