Moore County’s newly-constituted Board of Commissioner seem no more inclined than the previous board to raise property tax rates.
When the Commissioners opened their annual planning retreat on Monday, January 5 with a discussion of their personal goals for the year, the common thread was keeping property taxes at current levels.
All Moore County property will be revalued for tax purposes this year, and a key question is whether the total value of real estate in the county — the tax base — will rise, fall, or stay the same.
Whatever happens to the overall tax base, the commissioners appear determined to minimize the impact on individual taxpayers.
“My number one goal is, in our tax revaluation, that Moore County taxpayers will not see any increase whatsoever in what they are going to pay,” Chairman Nick Picerno said.
County Manager Wayne Vest “and the staff have done an excellent job in controlling costs while providing service to our citizens and getting good value for our tax dollars,” he added.
“These folks out here in the audience hired me,” Commissioner Otis Ritter said, “and I am going to try to work with them to keep their taxes at that current level.”
“Like the rest of our board members, I also want to keep our taxes at the current rate,” Commissioner Catherine Graham said. “Bottom line — no increase. If you’re paying $100 a year now, then I hope you will pay $100 a year next year.”
“With Wayne’s leadership, the staff has done a great job of keeping spending under wraps, Commissioner Randy Saunders said.
“I can’t imagine that we won’t be able to stay revenue neutral” — in other words, based on the new overall valuation, set a tax rate that will produce the same amount of revenue for the county.”
Flat to lower tax base expected
When the two-day retreat reconvened on Tuesday, January 6, the Commissioners learned that, in fact, the overall value of real estate in the County — the tax base after revaluation may remain very close to the current tax base.
Interim Tax Administerstrator John Edmondson told the Board that a preliminary analysis suggests that total value of Moore County real estate may total $10.8 billion, once the revaluation is complete.
That would represent a 1.3 percent decrease from the 2014 tax base. If that estimate holds up, County Manager Vest said, at current tax rates, the county would take in $660,000 less in property taxes next year. That represents about three-quarters of one percent of the county’s current $89.7 million general fund budget.
More cash headed to capital funds
The County should be able to easily absorb the hit to revenues, because county revenues have significantly exceeded expenditures for several years running.
During Day 2 of the retreat, Finance Director Caroline Xiang presented some preliminary numbers from the yet-to-be-published consolidated annual financial report for FY2014.
General Fund revenues for the year totaled just under $89.7 million, against expenses of $83.5 million.
When the county runs a surplus, the excess cash becomes part of its general fund balance. And, when that total fund balance exceeds fifteen percent of general fund revenues, the excess is set aside in capital funds.
Those funds are used to pay down existing debt — for example, from school bonds — or to fund current construction projects, like ongoing renovations at the county courthouse and the Currie Building or the construction of new schools.
The unassigned fund balance totaled $20.1 million at the end of 2014. Chairman Picerno told The Times that should allow the transfer of $7.5 million into county capital funds.
“This is where our capital reserve is built from,” Picerno told his fellow Commissioners. “Anything over fifteen percent is transferred to the capital reserve. That’s how we build the reserves for future needs.”
“Better to save it and pay for facilities than to have to borrow.”
“We have been spending $5 million a year for the last five years on school bond debt,” Saunders noted. “That’s $25 million. You could have built a high school with that.”
“We need to try to avoid debt and bonds at all costs and come up with a capital expenditure plan that we can pay as we go,” Picerno said.