LINCOLNTON – The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners nixed their plan to leave the property tax rate unchanged at the last minute, opting instead to drop the rate to 59.9 cents per $100 valuation, which was the figure suggested by County Manager Kelly Atkins during budget talks in March.
Before voting on the budget June 3, board chairman Carrol Mitchem – the lone commissioner to vote against leaving the tax rate unchanged during that March workshop – moved to lower the rate.
His motion, which followed a public hearing in which four county residents criticized the board for its plan to leave the rate the same, passed 3-2 when commissioners Anita McCall and Bud Cesena flipped from their previous position to hold the rate steady.
“I’m really pissed,” commissioner Rich Permenter said following the vote. “You guys backed off after all the hours we’ve spent on this and I’m astonished.”
While the tax rate will be lowered, most county residents will still see their tax bills increase because overall property values rose countywide after a recent reassessment.
A “revenue neutral” rate of 55.7 cents per $100 in value would have brought in the same dollar amount as last year, although that wouldn’t have been enough to balance the proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget. A rate of 58.9 cents was needed to balance the budget, but Atkins suggested bumping it up another cent and placing the excess revenues in a capital reserve fund to put the county in a better position to address future debt.
Commissioner Milton Sigmon moved in March to keep the rate steady at 61.1 cents, meaning the county would put roughly $2 million of excess revenues in its capital reserve fund. Instead, with the rate now set at 59.9 cents, the county will have approximately $1 million in excess revenues to put toward future debt.
“Here’s the situation,” Sigmon explained following the decision to lower the tax rate. “When you look at what we have proposed as a county, and it’s things that have been kicked down the road by previous commissions for quite some time, we’re faced with building a courthouse, jail, EMS facility and other projects. The county is going to be forced to borrow money for those projects, and the more you borrow, the more interest you pay. All of us as taxpayers are going to end up paying more by doing what we’re doing now.”
Commissioners McCall and Cesena explained their change of heart
“Although my personal preference would be to keep the rate at 61.1, I see my vote as nothing more than a representation of the public,” McCall said. “I have heard from the public, and therefore I have switched my vote based on what the public has asked me to do.”
“Like commissioner McCall, I’ve heard from a great number of my neighbors and folks from all across this county who made some interesting points, and that’s why I’ve decided to change my vote,” Cesena added.
The new tax rate will take effect July 1.