Well, we admit, we are absolutely flabbergasted.
Alamance County manager Heidi York unveiled her first county budget this week. (She started with the county just last July.) And she proposes a whopping 6.7 percent hike in the property tax rate above and beyond the much-discussed “revenue neutral” standard. That’s to match the 7-plus percent increase in spending that she proposes in her recommended budget.
York either has a hearing disability of some sort or a willful desire to ignore what we thought were pretty clear instructions and stated preferences from her board of commissioners, who are supposed to be her bosses.
All five of the commissioners have said, repeatedly over the past six months or more, that they want to see the county have a “revenue neutral” tax rate after revaluation.
Instead, she marches to the podium Monday night and announces a tax and spending plan that includes a 2.84-cent tax hike above the revenue neutral rate, which translates into a 6.7 percent increase in the tax rate above revenue neutral.
Now, on the one hand, we guess we should be thankful that she didn’t go even further with the extremes that various local town and city managers have recommended: proposing increases in their municipal tax rates ranging from 11 percent in Mebane to 21-plus percent in Burlington.
On the other hand, we cannot imagine how she could have sat with the commissioners every two weeks for the past six months as they have announced, over and over again, that they intend to keep the tax rate even with its current level – i.e., to adopt a “revenue neutral” approach.
Frankly, we’re left to wonder whether she is fundamentally competent to manage county government if she cannot, or will not, follow the instructions from her elected board. Is she obtuse?
We also noticed that she implied some blame-shifting in her narrative Monday night.
We commented last December on her high-handed decision, acting unilaterally, to give permanent raises to employees in the sheriff’s department.
She didn’t bother seeking the board’s approval for the raises.
She didn’t make them temporary.
She didn’t make them one-time “bonuses.”
She just gave them across-the-board, permanent increases.
At a cost of $877,000 – which was just the partial year price tag for this fiscal year. As we warned at the time, she put the county in a deep hole entering a new fiscal year – because the long-term impact would be about $1.7 million for a full year, as she outlined this week.
She included this item on a page of explanation this week that had other provisions where the county commissioners, themselves, had indeed added to long-term expenditures through their votes for mid-year add-ons. But this, the largest item in her example, was hers alone.
Then she’s expanded and deepened that hole that she created by prioritizing county employees over taxpayers – proposing a 5 percent across-the-board raise for all employees plus two other pots of money for even higher salaries, one costing $336,000 for other so-called “merit pay increases” and another, for $667,000, as the “first phase” in additional compensation for other county government employees.
We’ll give her credit for this: she at least acknowledges the practical impact of her proposed tax rate hike: $15 per month (or about $180 per year) for the average homeowner with a $200,000 house.
Keep in mind that “revenue neutral” is a cumulative target, not an individual one. Some people whose house/property values did not go up as much as the county average (80 percent) may see a reduction in their overall property taxes – both under her proposal, and even under a “revenue neutral” rate. But most, whose property values did go up, will see significant tax increases under her 2.84-cent tax hike.
But county taxpayers need to make their voices heard – often, loudly, and firmly (to each of the five commissioners). (And municipal residents, by the way, need to be making those same calls, visits, and protests to their town and city council members, as well. Otherwise, they face the possibility of having the largest cumulative one-year tax increase they have ever experienced.)
Like other local government managers, York prioritizes higher salaries for government workers with 5 percent raises for all county employees, while simultaneously hitting the taxpayer with a 6.7 percent increase in the tax rate.
We must be candid: someone needs to be fired.
Either county manager York should be terminated for her outrageous proposal that so ignores the clearly expressed positions of her commissioners.
Or, if any county commissioner actually endorses or votes for such a tax and spending increase as she has proposed, we certainly will urge that county commissioner(s) be “fired” at the next election they face.
In fact, we are reminded of scenes of yore with pitchforks, tar and feathers, and running officials out of town on a rail. Any of which might be deserved now based on her proposal, and even more so if her budget were to be adopted.
We are simply at a loss to understand how officials can, with a straight face, propose such incredibly high tax increases on Alamance County’s residents.