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Tax hike floated to boost county revenue

A 2-cent hike in the county real estate rate may loom in the future for county taxpayers.

Halifax County Board of Supervisors finance committee members agreed Wednesday to recommend the 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate for the coming year, raising the rate to 47 cents per $100 value, up from the current year’s 45-cent rate.

The recommendation for the advertised tax rate will go to the full board for consideration at the March 3 meeting. 

The increase will cover the half-cent that supervisors would need to maintain the current revenue neutral rate.

A revenue neutral real estate tax rate of 45.5 cents is needed because the county lost $181,000 in real estate revenue after the recent reassessment. 

In order for the county to collect the same amount of tax on real estate as in the previous year, the current 45 cent rate per $100 assessed value will have to increase to 45.5 cents on real estate just to remain “revenue neutral,” according to Finance Director Stephanie Jackson.

“In the past we have typically advertised higher just to make sure we have our options available,” added Jackson. 

“Just at the time we are advertising between then and when the tax rate is adopted, a lot of information comes out of the General Assembly, so that sort of protects the board from the advertisement process delaying the tax rate adoption.” 

Once the rate is advertised, the board can reduce the rate but cannot exceed the rate without going through a new public hearing process. 

ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman, who chairs the finance committee, said another factor in the rate is going to be the first phase of the courthouse renovation project. 

“I would certainly think we need to advertise 47 (cents). We would be able to accommodate the revenue neutral on the reassessment as well as the new debt service on phase one of the courthouse related moves,” said Bowman. 

The increase would be used to finance the $2.7 million loan that will cover renovations to the county administration building, which will be used by the sheriff’s department in the move. 

It also will cover renovations to the Mary Bethune Industrial Arts Building, which will be the temporary location for the courts. 

The remaining revenue from the increase of the rate will go toward paying for general budget needs. 

The finance committee also recommended level funding of $13 million for the school division despite the Halifax County School Board’s request for an additional $3 million. 

After reviewing each county staff department request, the supervisors had previously announced that with only a few exceptions, all would be recommended for level funding in the 2014-15 fiscal year. 

Jackson said she felt the amount of the school level funding is something she wanted the committee to look at to see if they feel it is where it should be. 

“I think what we have done annually is to show the funding we do give, the $13 million, compares really quite favorably to both what the Department of Education requires of the local effort and to our peer group and region to what they do,” said Bowman. 

Bowman also noted the board covers $5 million in debt service paid for school construction. 

County Administrator Jim Halasz added he and Jackson had recently had a “very good” meeting with school personnel to discuss budget issues. 

According to Halasz, school personnel “understand the board’s situation” with the budget and asked to ensure that level funding would be maintained. 

“I agree the goal is to maintain level funding. I don’t see the reward in reducing that,” said Bowman. 

Committee members also reviewed the projections for revenues and expenses with the upcoming FY2015 budget, which Bowman stressed were “very preliminary figures.” 

Jackson advised the board the recommendations that include $90,000 in additional projected revenues still have a $95,000 gap. 

It is projected the county will see about $300,000 coming in from its tax on public service corporations. 

Personal property values for 2015 are expected to generate another $200,000, mobile home taxes should generate $15,000, and the machinery and tool taxes are anticipated to be about $25,000. 

However, Jackson predicted the county could lose about $90,000 in sales tax revenues. 

When it comes to generating additional revenues, the county is limited with having only a few rates they are able to increase with many of them already at the maximum level allowed by state law including vehicle decals and business licenses.

Halasz and Jackson also were asked to revisit some of the requests.

 Twice a year, the volunteer fire departments receive sets of new gear. 

Bowman requested, while keeping the total amount that is given, the board could look at how they could better distribute the funds noting each department has different needs. 

He also requested the fire chiefs have input in the decision-making in order to have a “more successful outcome.” 

Bowman also requested a way be found to fulfill the request from the recreation committee to renovate the bathrooms in the Mary Bethune gymnasium.  

Committee members agreed to bring the recommendation to advertise the real estate tax rate at 47 cents and the requests the finance committee would like to revisit to the full board on March 3.