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Sheriff promotes property tax hike to help fill staff-level vacancies

Alamance County’s board of commissioners has generally given wide berth to a tax hike in years when any of its members are up for reelection. But this year, this apparent nonstarter has found a potentially powerful champion who hopes to tip the scales with the county’s governing board.

As a prelude to Monday’s debut of the county manager’s budget, Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson made a direct appeal to the commissioners on behalf of the budget’s recommended increase in the county’s current levy on property.

Johnson, a long-serving Republican who won’t appear on the ballot again until 2026, ultimately left it to county manager Heidi York to lay out the details of her suggested 2-cent bump in the tax rate. He nevertheless paved the way for York’s presentation with his own, more general pitch that aimed to make the idea of a tax hike more palatable to the all-Republican board of commissioners.

“We are at a time, here in Alamance County, when there are more shootings, more juvenile crime, and more problems in schools. We have got to keep up, commissioners, with the manpower and necessities to protect our citizens.

“Unless you guys have a gold pot hidden away somewhere, you’re going to have to raise some taxes. I know you folks aren’t going to want to do that. . . But I’m asking you to step up and do what you’re supposed to do. . . There comes a time when we have to pay the piper, and that time is now…If it means y’all having to raise taxes, put it on the sheriff.”

– Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson

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The sheriff began his harangue by reminding the commissioners that they’ve inherited one of the lowest property tax rates in North Carolina.

“Alamance County has the 13th lowest tax [rate] of North Carolina’s 100 counties,” he went on to observe. “But we’re also the 15th highest in population growth here in Alamance County. . . and Alamance County has the 16th highest crime rate in the state.

“We are at a time, here in Alamance County, when there are more shootings, more juvenile crime, and more problems in schools,” the sheriff added. “We have got to keep up, commissioners, with the manpower and necessities to protect our citizens.”

Johnson proceeded to present the commissioners with a list of all 100 counties in increasing order based on their tax rates. He pointed out that Alamance County’s current slot on this roster is even higher than jurisdictions like Randolph and Davidson that previous boards of commissioners have hailed for their relatively low property tax burdens.

The sheriff then turned his attention to his agency’s staffing, which he insisted has suffered due to the board’s devotion to the county’s low tax rate. He recalled that, since December of 2023, his office has lost a total of 26 people to retirement, forced termination, or voluntary departure – leaving him with nearly 70 vacancies throughout the agency’s ranks.

Johnson added that the turnover has been particularly high within his detention division, which is currently riddled with 49 openings. He said that these vacancies have forced him to make some unpleasant decisions, like halting a long-running detention agreement that he has brokered with the U.S. Marshals Service.

“Due to manpower issues,” he acknowledged, “we have suspended the U.S. Marshals’ contract…which brings in $1,104,000 to Alamance County.

“I talked to the Marshals Service last week and told them we can no longer hold any of their prisoners,” he added before noting that a similar fate may also befall an even more lucrative contract he has with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “If I have to, I’m going to have to cancel our immigration contract…and start farming our inmates out to surrounding counties that have available jail space.”

Johnson ultimately identified his agency’s salaries as the root cause of the perennially high vacancy rate in his detention division. He went on to contrast the $43,104 that his agency currently pays a new deputy with the $55,411 that rookie officers can earn in Burlington. This comparison was later undermined by the county manager, who admitted that the sheriff’s base pay rate doesn’t factor in a $5,000 bonus that the commissioners have previously approved for deputies and detention officers who work 12 hour shifts “in the field.” Even so, the struggle with recruitment has been undeniable, according to Johnson.

In the final analysis, the sheriff assured the commissioners that nothing short of a tax increase will allow his agency to replenish its depleted ranks.

“Unless you guys have a gold pot hidden away somewhere, you’re going to have to raise some taxes,” he added. “I know you folks aren’t going to want to do that…But I’m asking you to step up and do what you’re supposed to do…There comes a time when we have to pay the piper, and that time is now…If it means y’all having to raise taxes, put it on the sheriff.”


See the newspaper’s editorial page views on the sheriff’s comments: https://alamancenews.com/sheriff-should-stick-to-his-job-hes-not-an-expert-on-budgets-or-taxes/

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