The Beaufort County Commissioners voted 5 to 2 early Tuesday morning to approve a new budget that includes an increase in property taxes.
Officials say the new tax rate will be 53 cents per $100 valuation, starting July 1. The current rate is 50 cents per $100 valuation.
The increase is not as much as was recommended in the budget proposal submitted by County Manager Paul Spruill. That called for a 9.3% increase, of 55 cents per $100 valuation.
The tax rate for the 2009-2010 fiscal year was 60 cents per $100 valuation. After the revaluation in 2009, the property tax rate came down to 50 cents per $100 valuation, according to Commissioner Jay McRoy, though it still brought the same amount of revenue to the county. McRoy says state law requires them to undergo a property revaluation every eight years.
McRoy says Beaufort County never passed along expected property tax increases after voters approved a $33 million school bond in 2004. He says the county has absorbed the $2.6 million payment each year. However, the economy now no longer allows Beaufort County to handle that burden without the assistance of taxpayers, according to McRoy, after years of using the county's fund balance to make payments.
The property tax rate could come down if Beaufort County residents vote to approve a sales tax increase next year. During the primary voting in May 2012, Beaufort County residents will have the chance to vote on a quarter-cent sales tax increase. McRoy says that sales tax increase would put Beaufort County's sales tax at the same level as Pitt and Martin counties. If the sales tax referendum passes, that would bring the property tax down by 1.5 percent.
The budget also cuts funding to Beaufort County Schools, by $700,000. Half of the cuts are from the capital budget, the other half from operations. McRoy says the school system gets $14 million of the $25 million that property taxes bring into county coffers. Since it's such a large part of the budget, McRoy says it was difficult to avoid making cuts to the school system.
McRoy says he voted for the budget, along with Jerry Langley, Al Klemm, Robert Cayton, and Ed Booth. The opposing votes came from Stan Deatherage and Hood Richardson.
The budget takes effect July 1.
A charged up crowd of Beaufort county residents pleaded their cases to county commissioners.
"S.O.S. means stop over spending, but I was really going to say stop stupid spending," said Beaufort county resident Dick Adams.
Adams says the commissioners' spending plan is for wants- not needs.The initial proposed county managers' 2012 budget is more than $50 million, which resident Charles Hickman says hits the pocket of the citizens of Beaufort county.
"They've got my attention, and to be honest, a lot people are really hurting in this economy right now and I know people who are really affected and its kind of sad," said Hickman.
Hickman says the tax increase along with the economy is adding more financial burdens to residents who don't have the money to begin with.
"With 10% unemployment- and its not a good time for a tax increase and especially following the one we just had," said Hickman.
After each commissioner laid out their plan, it came down to what money would be allocated to certain organizations or departments such as the arts council, sheriffs department, as well as the school system.
"What we are asking them to do and they're elected to do is run the business and not to be sugar daddies to everybody that comes along- every organization," said Adams.
Whatever way you look at it, its millions of dollars that have to be divided and allocated to run a county already struggling financially.
The meeting lasted late into Monday night.