CORNELIUS – Mecklenburg County Commissioner Chairman Trevor Fuller said he believed residents won’t see a tax rate increase in fiscal year 2014-15, but they probably won’t see it lowered either.
Fuller and District 1 County Commissioner Karen Bentley visited the Cornelius town board Feb. 3 to introduce recently hired County Manager Dena Diorio of Huntersville.
Fuller announced the county has had higher-than-expected sales and property tax revenues and officials anticipate a surplus. The board will discuss how to proceed at a budget retreat Feb. 20-21.
“I believe we ought not have any new tax rate increase for the county and expect the others will likely follow suit,” Fuller told Cornelius commissioners. “Some needs we’ve had for a number of years are from the effects of the recession that perhaps we can begin to address.”
Among those are departments whose staff numbers were cut by 50 percent.
“I don’t see it as an opportunity to spend money, but perhaps an opportunity to bring back the level of service residents have come to expect from Mecklenburg County,” he said.
But to Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy, saying the county is avoiding another tax increase isn’t enough.
“I hope you will consider rolling back some part of the tax rates. They pay more to the county than they pay to us,” Gilroy said. “Times are still tough and families deserve relief.”
The Mecklenburg County tax rate is $0.8157 per $100 valuation in addition to Cornelius’ rate of $0.24 per $100.
Gilroy noted with income and sales taxes, a person sees an increase if they make more money or buy more, but homeowners are at the mercy of the assessed values and the boards’ decision on property tax rates.
“They are not earning more and yet see big increases,” Gilroy said. “With assessed values always going up, an increased rate to me — and a lot of people — is an insult on top of injury.”
Fuller countered that he believed reducing taxes in fiscal year 2012 is the reason they had to have an increase last year. That year, the tax rate decreased from $.8166 per $100 valuation in 2011 to $.7922 per $100. Cornelius also lowered its rate that year to .24 per $100, valuation, where it has stayed.
“My view, rather than it go up and down, let’s attempt to try to keep it steady,” Fuller said. “We don’t know how enduring these revenue numbers will be. We don’t know if the property values increase is enough to support a lower tax rate as you suggest.”
Plus, he added, if they lower the taxes, they can’t recoup diminished services.
“It’s hard to not argue returning service levels. If so, what are costs. If we are not going to, there are consequences to that, too,” he said. “It’s a discussion we have to have.”
Fuller also discussed the recent reassessment of the 2011 revaluation, which several Cornelius residents challenged had been inflated. Last year, the county hired Tax Assessor Ken Joyner to redo the 2011 property estimates and make changes where necessary.
“We’ve spent a lot of county dollars to address the problem,” Fuller said. “Our new assessor Ken Joyner has begun to turn a corner, but we are not there yet and there is much work to do. More that that, the office is preparing for the next revaluation that has to be done by 2019. We don’t want to have a repeat experience of 2011.”
The Cornelius board also wanted updates for the proposed public beach on Lake Norman and relief of crowded schools. Bentley said they are awaiting federal permits for swimming and that the county’s capital plan outlines a new K-8 school in Davidson and the rebuilding of J.M. Alexander Middle to alleviate problems.