5/22/2019 11:46:00 AM Gaston Commissioners Discuss Budget
Commissioner Ronnie Worley
Commissioner Jack Brown
Wayne Howard Staff Writer
It was billed as a non-voting work session, so no vote could be taken, but it appeared that Gaston County Commissioners had come to an agreement to set the county's tax rate at 84¢ per hundred dollars valuation.
That means a decrease in the tax rate--the highest of any county in this area and the fifth highest in the state, currently 87¢.
Commission Chairman Tracy Philbeck said he called the special meeting at the request of Commissioner Ronnie Worley, who said he thought there needed to be further discussion of the budget. Worley made it clear that the tax rate was the big question on his mind. "I'm not prepared to raise taxes on the citizens of Gaston County by $21 million," he said.
$21 million is the amount of additional revenue the County would raise if the tax rate were set at 85¢, which is what County Manager Earl Mathers had suggested. Worley asked what rate would be revenue neutral. He never got a clear answer.
Mathers cautioned Commissioners that the County is behind on capital projects and its unassigned fund balance is pitifully low at $2.5 million as of June 30th last year--and likely even less this year.
The County budget, as it stands now, is $332 million for fiscal 2019-2020, up from $302 million for fiscal 2018-2019. Mathers said the various departments asked for more, but his recommendation includes 27 new County employees. Raises for employees will be just over a million dollars.
Commissioner Jack Brown noted that the County's budget has grown year after year.
Mathers responded to a question about how much County revenues would have increased if the revaluation hadn't been done. He said growth would have created about six to seven percent of additional revenue. The revaluation created an average increase in property values of just over 23%. With the 85¢ tax rate Mathers had suggested, that would have given the County about $21 million in new revenue. With the 84¢ the Commissioners now appear to favor, the County will get about $17 million in new revenue.
While Commissioners didn't dwell on a suggestion for consolidation, there was talk about possibly consolidating law enforcement.
The final budget proposal will be up for a public hearing in June and Commissioners must approve a budget and set the tax rate by July 1st. 2019 property tax invoices--with the new rate in place--will go in the mail the end of July.
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