By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Pulaski County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Thursday night to advertise for a 10-cent hike in the real estate tax rate for 2013-14, but they’re hoping any increase approved will be less than that.
“Now, staff needs to bring us a budget that’s less than that – some hard choices. Well less than that,” Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready said after seconding Draper District Dean Pratt’s motion to advertise a 10-cent increase.
Before making the motion, Pratt said it’s time the county starts taking care of some of its capital improvement needs.
“We’ve balanced the budget on a lack of taking care of our buildings (over the years) and we can’t keep doing that. We can’t do (everything that’s needed) all at one time, but we have to start dwindling it down,” he said.
In order to meet advertising deadlines for a public hearing on the real estate tax rate, the supervisors had to vote Thursday night whether to advertise for an adjustment in the rate. However, advertising a 10-cent increase does not bind the board to impose that amount of increase or any increase at all.
Robinson District Supervisor Charles Bopp cast the sole dissenting vote.
The county’s current real estate tax rate is 54 cents per $100 of assessed value. County Administrator Pete Huber said each penny increase results in about $250,000 in additional revenue.
Although it is almost time for another property assessment, he said it is likely property values will either stay the same or fall a little. “It’s not likely to jump up. I think we’ll do will to stay level,” he noted.
With $2.9 million in requests for additional school funding for the coming fiscal year and $15 million in capital requests in the county budget, Huber said it isn’t feasible to increase the tax rate enough to meet all of the needs. He said a 10-cent increase would be needed to cover the school request and it would take another four cents to do $1 million of capital improvements.
“I recommend we advertise a 10-cent rate increase and keep sharpening the pencil,” Huber told the board. “If we advertise that rate, we can go down, but not up.”
He said the board may also want to look at adjusting the personal property rate when the budget is prepared.
Several supervisors expressed disgust over the impact it has on the local budget when state legislators keep reducing funding for schools and services the state mandates localities provide.
“We can’t continue to have the state not fund what they’re supposed to fund,” said McCready. “They’re able to say they have a balanced budget and surpluses …”
“But they’re balancing it on our backs,” Pratt interjected.
“It’s always put on the backs of the working man,” Ingles District Supervisor Ranny O’Dell added.
McCready also noted that one problem with the budget, particularly for schools, is coming up with enough funds to cover the expense created by “Obamacare” (the Affordable Care Act).
“They’re going to tell us where we have to be in two years; there’s no getting around that,” McCready said. “If we can assist the schools in lowering what the employees have to pay, it’ll be like a pay raise.”
He added that even if the act is defunded “It won’t change the fees and taxes on the public and private sectors.”
Before seconding Pratt’s motion, McCready told Pratt he is aware neither of them is comfortable with a 10-cent hike in real estate rates. “I don’t want to unnecessarily frighten the public,” he said, “but we hire the county administrator to make recommendations. I certainly think we’ll do better than that (a 10-cent increase).”
Looking at Pulaski County School Board Chairman Mike Barbour and Massie District School Board member Jeff Bain, McCready added, “We won’t be able to meet all of these needs. I can tell you that. But we are committed to start.”
McCready also noted that economic development efforts being made by the county in terms of projects that have already been announced and those that are coming or promising will start to pay dividends to the county in terms of tax revenues to help pay for the school system and other county needs.
“If we can continue a strong economic development effort, we will increase our tax base and make it easier on our citizens. This is not a project that’s going to be successful overnight. We’re building on the success of previous boards, but we’re working to ramp that up even more,” he said. “As we spread that tax base out, hopefully it will help mitigate some of these costs.”
He added, “All of us share a deep concern for how some of our citizens are going to be able to pay the existing taxes or increased taxes.”