County Council gives needed oversight on tax rates

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 11, 2012 

Do you think you pay enough in local property taxes? Would you like to pay a whole lot more?

Do you know we have a superior system here in Beaufort County? Why? Because County Council decides the tax rate on your property. Before you get upset at that comment, review what happens here compared to the majority of the U.S.

Your County Council receives and evaluates all the money requests from all county departments, and the Beaufort County School District, as well as the fire districts, and balances out those competing requests for more money, setting the tax rate so that we don't suffer massive property tax increases.

Think about this. You know every single government spender in the county thinks its needs are the most important. That's logical. The school district, the Sheriff's Office, public works, the jail, our fire districts and all the others. They all need (want) more money. And if we gave them the freedom to raise their own taxes as they pleased, don't you think they would?

In other states, this is exactly what happens. It's akin to setting tax rates in a vacuum. Look at property taxes in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Pennsylvania or Illinois.

When taxpayers don't have a single body to balance out these costs with respect to the property owner's overall tax bill, taxes go through the roof. Ask anyone from the North.

The bottom line is simple. In my eight years on County Council as Finance Committee chairman, my primary concern was to balance things out and not allow your property tax bill to suffer massive increases year-over-year. And while personally unpleasant, having the school board mad at me every year was of less concern than knowing that we had done our absolute best to rein in the crushing cost of government tax increases.

Had our school board gotten all the increases they wanted during my time in office, your tax bill would be at least 40 percent higher today than it is.

And please note, County Council sets the school district's tax rate, not its budget, and it can't tell the district where and how to spend the tax money they get.

Make no mistake about it, the job of making these decisions on council is very hard, often contentious and unpleasant. But I suggest that if some elected officials find the process too unpleasant, they would serve us better by resigning and letting someone with a thicker skin take their place.

If you agree with me in any way at all, you must speak up.

Our Legislative Delegation wants and needs to hear from you. The first meeting was mostly filled with school district employees and their advocates. No surprise, they want the freedom to increase your taxes regardless of how much other government entities raise theirs.

If you agree that County Council's oversight has kept your taxes from going through the roof, let the Legislative Delegation know. Or increased property taxes will be a significant reality.

Mark Generales represented Lady's Island on the Beaufort County Council from 1999 through 2006. He also served as chairman of the council's Finance Committee.

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