Tax bills going up, board approves budget

by Frank DeLoache

DAVIDSON – Just like that, with few comments and without even voting, Davidson commissioners decided Tuesday night, June 14, to indefinitely delay further discussion of a proposal to switch the mayor and commissioners from two- to four-year terms and stagger the election of commissioners.

By consensus, the board decided not to put the issue of longer terms before the voters, at least not until after the election this fall.

With only a little more discussion, the board, by a 3-2 vote, decided to take more from the town’s fund balance and lower the town’s property tax rate from 36.5 to 35 cents per $100 of assessed value for the 2011-12 budget year.

But the majority of Mayor Pro Tem Laurie Venzon and Commissioners Tim Dreffer and Brian Jenest didn’t lower the tax rate enough to balance out the sharp rise in assessed value that most Davidson homeowners will absorb because of revaluation of property countywide.

By state calculations, the town board would have needed to lower the rate another 2.9 cents – to 32.1 cents per $100 of assessed value – to counteract the increase in taxable value for the average Davidson homeowner.

They would have seen even higher bills in the budget recommended by Town Manager Leamon Brice. Brice recommended dropping the tax rate a half-cent – to 36 cents – which would have provided the town additional revenue to replace worn-out equipment, make some badly needed repairs to town facilities, including streets, and give some employees their first raise in three years.

Though he votes only to break a tie, Mayor John Woods voiced support for Brice’s budget. Commissioner Connie Wessner made a motion to approve Brice’s budget, but only Commissioner Margo Williams joined her, and the motion died.

So most Davidson homeowners will see a higher tax bill next year, and the latest estimates from the county’s assessor’s office have Davidson’s average value increasing even more.

As recently as May, county officials estimated the overall value of real estate in Davidson would increase 17.6 percent. But this month, after seeing the results of some property owners’ appeals, county officials said real estate values will likely increase 21.6 percent overall, Finance Director Eric Hardy said Tuesday.

So, as an example, a home assessed at $300,000 last year got a property tax bill from Davidson for $1,095.

That home can now expect to see its assessed value rise to $364,800, and under the property rate approved by the board Tuesday, the homeowner can expect a property tax bill of $1,276.80 to arrive in the mail this fall.

If the board had decided to lower the tax rate only a half-cent, the town tax bill on that same house would have increased to $1,313.28.

Four-year, staggered terms

At their last meeting, board members had all but agreed to put the issue of longer terms for town board members before the voters in a referendum this fall. Town officials had even sent out proposed language for the referendum question as part of the agenda for the meeting Tuesday.

But when the board got to that part of the agenda, Mayor John Woods started the discussion by, essentially, ending it. Noting the issue has generated much debate, Woods suggested continuing the issue “beyond the current election.”

Commissioner Connie Wessner, who has steadfastly opposed putting the question of four-year terms on the ballot, said the question has become an “emotional, hair-trigger issue” and the board needs to give more time for discussion and education on the question in the community – “and not just to the opponents.”

Mayor Pro Tem Laurie Venzon noted the board took up the proposal at the suggestion of citizens who worked on the town’s new comprehensive plan, but “I think it’s prudent at this point to stop and get more information.”

Woods said he felt the board had reached a consensus, “and we’ll take no action on this.”