County commissioners and every other local city council and board of aldermen have been on a spending spree on behalf of their own employees, granting raises left and right.
Bonuses, cost-of-living increases, special incentives – all have been enacted during the past six months (and/or are being proposed in their respective budgets for 2022-2023), ostensibly to “reward” those faithful government employees who have worked “so hard,” don’t you know, over the two years of the Covid pandemic.
The most outlandish recent example is the interim county manager’s recommendation that commissioners grant a $5,000 pay boost to anyone in the county’s employ who hasn’t already gotten at least that much in the aforementioned round of bonuses and special incentives.
So, may we ask what we think is the rather obvious question which few government officials seem to be asking: what about the taxpayer?
How about some consideration for the heavy tax burden that the county’s taxpayers have been under during Covid?
Last we checked, no local government has given them a cost-of-living raise or a $5,000 windfall, or paid for their escalating health insurance costs.
Few government officials seem to be talking about how taxpayer can share in the overall free-spending philosophy that local governments seems to be undertaking.
After all, it’s their money that’s being spent in the first place.
It seems to us that given the overly-high tax rate increase that a previous board of commissioners enacted two years ago (8 cents per $100 valuation, the highest ever property tax increase in the county’s history!), some consideration should now be given to reducing that burden significantly.
Commissioners gave some half-hearted pittance last year – cutting one cent from the tax rate, even when far more could have easily been justified.
Since then, millions in federal funds have flowed in, sales tax revenues are higher than anyone expected, every area’s tax base has grown through substantial construction, and yet most officials act as though they must restrain tax relief, even while opening the floodgates for more spending for their employees.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, the county in particular is awash in extra revenue. Of course, if it’s allowed to remain, officials will inevitably, sooner or later, spend it.
This year, we think commissioners could easily justify about 2½ cents to be taken off the next year’s tax rate.
We commend Bill Lashley who we’ve heard has been lobbying his fellow board members to cut 2-cents from the current 65-cent per $100 tax rate.
And while we appreciate Lashley’s efforts – which apparently have not been universally well received – quite frankly, an even larger cut could be justified by the combination of factors that have brought in unexpectedly high revenues.
In fact, as Lashley has pointed out, the commissioners set aside about $3.8 million over the past year – that amounts to 2½ cents on the tax rate at $1.6 million in property tax revenue per penny on the tax rate.
Hence, our view is that the county can, and should, provide relief to its taxpaying citizens – not just its employees.
Also, please note that both last year and this, the county manager and now interim manager, respectively, proposed budgets that increased spending above the rate for increases in the cost of living.
If the taxpayers aren’t to get relief in the form of reduced taxes, then commissioners should ensure that the new budget is shrunk to no more than an inflationary increase.
In the federal arena, the Armstrong amendment (named for then-Colorado Senator Bill Armstrong) provided that federal income tax rates were “indexed” for inflation each year, so that the federal government doesn’t benefit from higher incomes that are simply the result of inflation.
Similarly, the commissioners ought to figure a way to “index” the property tax rate, so that taxpayers can share in the benefits of the improving local economy – without simply paying more taxes.
Last year, three out of five commissioners (Lashley, chairman John Paisley, and Craig Turner) provided the penny tax rate cut. Last year, Steve Carter and Pam Thompson voted against the budget that allowed that modest tax cut.
This year, however, all five should join together to provide significant tax relief to Alamance County’s overtaxed, and too-often forgotten, taxpayers.
Otherwise, we do hope they’ll stop spending away what should be the taxpayers’ share in the form of ever-escalating salaries, additional personnel, and more programs.