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Pair speaks on Halifax County tax increase

Halifax County Board of Supervisors had 100 percent participation at a public hearing held Thursday night on increasing the real estate tax rate from the current 43 cents to 45 cents to offset the decrease in the recent general reassessment of real property that went into effect Jan. 1.

Two people attended, and both told supervisors to reconsider raising taxes during the hearing held in the public meeting room of the Mary Bethune Office Complex in Halifax.

The 2011 real estate tax rate is current 43 cents per 100 of assessed value. However with the reassessment, the equalized real estate tax rate is 45 cents per 100.

According to County Finance Director Stephanie Jackson, since property values declined by 3.24 percent as a result of the reassessment, a 2-cents increase to 45 cents per $100 value is needed to continue bringing in the same amount of tax revenue.

The 45 cents tax rate will levy nearly the same amount of real estate tax as last year when multiplied by the new total assessed value of real estate, excluding additional assessments due to new construction or improvements to property, she said.

According to County Administrator George Nester, once the new assessment values are locked in at the new 45 cents real estate tax rate, the total budget of Halifax County will exceed last year’s by 0.26 percent.

The county conducts a reassessment every two years prompting the need for the county to reconsider adopting an “adjusted tax rate” or “equalized tax rate” of 45 cents per $100 value based on the declining property values to generate the same amount of revenue off real estate.

Under the old assessment, it was 43 cents per $100.

“Basically what that 45 cents does is generate the same amount, just a little above what was generated last year,” the county administrator said.

The hearing was held to receive comments on the recent reassessment, its process and the need to increase the real estate tax rate to bring in the same amount of money as the current tax rate.

Josephine Scearce of Halifax told supervisors that so many county residents live on a fixed income and are having difficulty dealing with cost of living increases such as rising gas and grocery prices and bills “going up everyday,” a tax increase would be one more burden they would have to bear.

“You can go to the grocery store, and you look they’re going higher and higher everyday. People are losing their homes. I just don’t see how you can raise the tax.

“You can’t even afford to go to the grocery store. You see people just standing over there looking and looking, and they can’t afford to buy the groceries,” she said.

Also speaking against any tax hike was Bernard Mitzler of Nathalie who told supervisors that housing reassessments may have gone down, “but our farm ground all went up.”

Mitzler said he disputed the increase to his land’s reassessment and told the board of equalization that farm land around the county was being sold at auction for between $1,100 and $1,300 an acre.

However, he said he was told auction prices are not used during a reassessment.

“We have to use what realtors are selling it for,” Mitzler said he was told.

“Of course the realtors are getting big money because they’re going online and advertising it up north, and all those people are coming down from up there” and buying the land at higher prices.

Farmers are being hit hard with rising costs for operation, he told supervisors.

“Our price of fertilizer and our diesel fuel and parts is tremendous. We are having to cut back, so why can’t everybody else cut back?” he asked.

Mitzler anticipated the board plans to raise the rate to 45 cents “to get equal” and then raise taxes a couple more cents.

He also said he opposes the county implementing a fee of $4 to dispose of garbage at the county’s convenience centers.

“Hello, that’s the only thing we get as farmers is our garbage taken out, and some of us never have put any garbage into your landfill because we recycle it,” Mitzler added.

He urged board members to “hold some of this spending down.”

Mitzler further admonished the board for continuing to “dump money in the IDA (Halifax County Industrial Development Authority) rat hole.”

“This IDA stuff should be paying off where our tax rate should be going down now,” Mitzler said. “We just keeping dumping more and more money in that cornhole, and around the county we’ve got several places we just keep dumping money, and it’s not going to help us one bit.”

No action was taken on increasing the tax rate following Thursday night’s public hearing; however, County Administrator George Nester did say that the 45 cent “equalization tax rate” may not necessarily be the rate the county is going to be locked into.

Another public hearing is slated for tonight at 6 p.m. in the meeting room of the Mary Bethune Office Complex in Halifax on the county budget and the school budget.