City of Beaufort residents could face tax increase next year

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 12, 2013 

  • Received a report from Park Beaufort and discussed future options and solutions to downtown parking issues.

  • Discussed a plan to educate and communicate better with residents about the "City Building" initiative, which includes topics such as the proposed form-based code.

  • Heard a presentation about Team Beaufort, a nonprofit weightlifting organization, and two of its members who have qualified for the youth world weightlifting competition.

  • Proclaimed March Disabilities Month and American Red Cross Month.

  • Approved a resolution to change the growth boundary shared with the town of Port Royal.

  • Approved a resolution to ask the state to abandon ownership of Inlet Road so the city can annex it as part of plans for a new Publix on Lady's Island.

  • Approved co-sponsorship of Take Back the Night and the Water Festival bocce tournament.

If you live in the city of Beaufort, chances are your taxes will go up next year.

Just how much is still to be determined, including how much of that increase will be city taxes.

Early estimates from Beaufort County's property reassessment have the city's property tax base decreasing from $62.4 million to $58 million, according to a presentation by city finance director Kathy Todd at council meeting Tuesday night. That estimate is based on early projections; a more firm estimate will be available in April.

"So, it seems like we have to make up between $350,000 and $500,000," said Councilman Mike Sutton, summarizing the expected revenue loss the city faces.

That means if property tax rates remain even, property owners will pay less.

But that leaves the city, and other county agencies, short on revenue. How they adjust to make up the difference could negate any tax decrease.

County assessor Ed Hughes said at a meeting in February that property values will shift during the reassessment so the northern half of the county will bear more of the financial burden than the southern half.

If a property's tax value decreases by more than 13 percent, he is estimating that homeowner will owe less taxes. If the value decrease is less than that, however, he expects taxes will go up.

Todd said that -- based on preliminary numbers -- it appears the average property in the city will decrease in value by 5.62 percent -- well below the 13 percent threshold.

If the county and school district "roll forward" tax rates -- a practice that keeps tax revenue the same by changing the tax rate -- the city is expected to be among the areas with increased taxes. That, however, is not in the hands of city officials.

What is in city council's purview is the decision of how to set city tax rates, which are paid in addition to other taxes.

If council does nothing, and property owners pay less in city taxes, the city will lose about $466,000 in revenue. Some options Todd presented Tuesday night included doing a partial roll forward.

Other options include increasing other fees, such as those for business licenses. In 2012, the city collected almost $3.8 million in license revenues.

Council and staff are focusing soley on revenue at the moment and have not gotten to the point of considering potential service cuts, city manager Scott Dadson said.

Any potential cuts will need to be very targeted since the city cut about 25 percent of its budget in 2008 in the face of the recession, he said. There were layoffs and contracts were negotiated with outside companies to save money.

Follow reporter Erin Moody

Related content:

Property tax bills could rise despite declining property values

City of Beaufort seeks to continue Duke Street improvements, Feb. 26, 2013

Beaufort council seeks 'a wonderful city' at annual retreat, Feb. 21, 2013

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