Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Taxpayers, beware; an enormous property tax hike is coming your way

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County commissioners continue to flail about on next year’s county budget.  They keep having a series of special meetings, all ostensibly to hear and consider all manner of spending ideas that various factions think should be a part of the next county budget.

Why is it, we wonder, that so-called “budget workshops” inevitably turn into dog-and-pony shows for how to spend more money rather than less?

What no one – on the board, and we’re afraid even among the public – seems to be focusing on is how much more this series of expenditures is going to add up to cost the taxpayers.

Gone – if it was ever on the agenda – is any discussion about cutting spending.  It’s all more, more, more.

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Only taxpayers seem to have any real interest in controlling expenditures – and the elected commissioners are supposed to be representing them and their interest. But lately, it’s pretty hard to tell who’s actually trying to rein in spending.  Rather, they seem to be trying to out-do one another in thinking up more and more ways to spend more and more taxpayer money.

 When the school system neglected to submit its budget on time, county manager Heidi York was faced with little alternative but to submit a proposed spending plan to the commissioners that did not include anything more than a “placeholder” amount for the school system, simply rolling forward last year’s spending levels, not taking into account the more than $10 million in increases that school board members claim to need.

On the one hand, we’ve been just trying to recover from laughing too hard at the totally inept performance of the school system and its supposedly experienced interim superintendent, Bill Harrison.

State law requires school systems across the state to submit their annual funding requests to the local board of commissioners by May 15 each year.

That’s neither a new, nor particularly difficult, requirement to understand. It’s one that Harrison and any other superintendent who’s worked in North Carolina (as Harrison has) should know.

It’s an annual requirement. It applies in every school system across the state. And it has – for years.

ABSS school board members gathered on May 14 to bemoan that they needed $10.3 million more in current expense (operations) funding than last year. And that didn’t include another $3.9 million in capital funding, $600,000 higher than the current fiscal year.

But somehow, they couldn’t manage to submit their request a day or two later to the county government.

Instead, two days after the deadline (May 17) – and after business hours on a Friday afternoon (5:04 p.m.) – they finally submitted what amounted to a PowerPoint presentation, i.e., not the actual budget itself.

It was too late to be included or considered in the budget that the county manager presented to the commissioners on the evening of Monday (May 20).

Is it any wonder that neither the county government, the commissioners, nor the public at large can have any confidence in the fundamental competence of ABSS school officials?

But don’t think that school system incompetence won’t continue to cost the taxpayers.

At current valuations, a penny on the property tax rate garners about $2.5 million.  Since the school system wants $10 million more than was in the budget, that could translate to four cents on the tax rate – just for the school system – if the commissioners decided to fund all of the ABSS requests.  That’s 9.3 percent tax hike just for ABSS’ higher spending.

That doesn’t count another 2 cents that York had already built into her budget. Thus, she had already proposed a 4.6 percent increase in the tax rate.

(But, of course, there’s always room for higher salaries: 3 percent for all county employees, plus up to 2 percent more for so-called merit increases.  And that’s before the commissioners’ latest gambit to add tens of thousands of dollars for hard-to-fill jailer positions.)

If commissioners are foolish enough to include all, or even most, of ABSS’ wish list (almost always exaggeratedly described as “mandatory” items), that could mean a staggering 6-cent property tax hike.

At 6 cents, Alamance County taxpayers could be faced with as much as a 14 percent increase in their property taxes. Unbelievable!

And, by the way, we see nothing wrong with dipping into the county’s so-called savings account, or fund balance, to cut down on the tax rate impact on property owners.  After all, those “reserves” actually represent the accumulation of previous overtaxation of Alamance County taxpayers.  It’s there because the taxes that were imposed on them –and turned out to be higher than needed to fund previous annual budgets – have become “surplus,” or now “savings.”

How about a refund, instead?

Or at least hold the line on additional taxes.

We also continue to voice our concern about the involvement of county commissioner Craig Turner, who is now married to Turrentine principal Julie Hancock, in budgetary matters related to the school system.

We’ve noted before our concern that Turner’s previously thoughtful and critical approach toward ABSS spending has increasingly turned into a more lackadaisical tolerance of anything and everything involving school system spending.

It’s almost as though he can find no school system spending to curtail.

Turner is running for a district court judgeship.  Frankly, voters are going to be hard-pressed to decide whether to give him the position on merit or to get him off the board of commissioners where he’s increasingly one of the big spenders.

But we very much doubt that voters – especially the Republican ones he’ll need to win in November – are going to want to reward him for his increasingly spendthrift philosophy toward spending and the taxes they have to pay because of it.

All in all, we’re surprised that voters are not already in open revolt over the possibility that such a mammoth tax hike is in the offing.

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