County officials hint at property tax increase
Published: Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 10:56 p.m.
A property tax increase isn't something the all-Republican Davidson County Board of Commissioners wants to pass. But the way county staff is talking, it may be inevitable.
Assistant Davidson County Manager Zeb Hanner told the board that the county's finances were fair at the board's annual retreat Thursday. But with several capital projects on the horizon, Hanner said the board should consider a 1 cent tax increase by the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Commissioner Chairman Sam Watford said raising taxes is something that no one wants to do but added that a small tax increase now may prevent larger such hikes years down the road.
"It's a real possibility," Watford said. "Every time you put it off, the larger it gets."
The county's current tax rate sits at 54 cents for every $100 in valuation. Hanner estimated that a 1 cent increase could raise about $1 million in revenue.
Not all commissioners were resigned to an eventual tax increase. Fred McClure said the county should find about $1.5 million in the budget to cut in order to keep the tax rate steady.
Another tax, a proposed temporary quarter-cent sales tax, would go to fund the new high school in northern Davidson County, at a cost of $45 million. The county identified nearly $100 million in capital needs over the next five years. The board will explore other funding avenues in the coming weeks.
Hanner detailed the county's current fiscal health, saying property tax revenues were up about $500,000 through the first six months of the county's financial year as compared to last. Spending has also been kept to a minimum as the county has spent $56,000 from its unrestricted general fund balance through the first half of the year, about the same as last year. The county is also paying off about $9 million in debt this year.
The board also discussed boosting salaries of county workers. Commissioners were careful in their discussions, warning that raises would be small as they still continue to deal with a difficult budget.
"It's time," Watford said of the raise. "They haven't had anything in several years."
Beyond the school needs were conversations about expanding the Lexington Library, upgrading outdated software at the Davidson County 911 Center and renovation of the Lank and Windstream buildings, recent purchases that will house county departments possibly as early as this year.
The Davidson County Sheriff's Office is optimistic it can move to the former Lank of Lexington furniture plant on U.S. Highway 64 West near Interstate 85 by December. To guide this move and other short-term capital projects, commissioners discussed forming a steering committee. The board will likely appoint members to the panel in the coming weeks.
With the sheriff's office relocating, the county will have some rare office space available at the Davidson County Courthouse facility. The county has been wrestling with what to do with the jail and courthouse for years, discussing renovation or expansion of the existing uptown Lexington compound or new construction elsewhere.
Another suggestion was made to move certain offices, particularly the district attorney's office, into the former Windstream building which would free up space for juvenile services and judges.
All the talk of renovating and building came to a head though when commissioners received a $64,000 proposal from Charlotte-based Ware Bonsall Architects for design work for the future home of the county's sheriff's office.
"That's just too expensive," Commissioner Todd Yates said, and recommended the yet-to-be-appointed committee explore other options.
Board chairman Sam Watford was concerned with how far negotiations had already gone with Ware Bonsall and said the county "needs to slow down."
Davidson County Sheriff David Grice told commissioners he misinterpreted the figure, saying he thought the price included more than just design work. Grice advocated for the firm saying they were familiar with his department.
The capital needs seem to never end, Watford admitted, and paying for them is always a challenge for the board.
Commissioners took no action on the discussion.
David Bodenheimer can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or at email@example.com.