Tax increase proposed in Beaufort County budget

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 20, 2013 

  • In other action Monday, County Council:

  • Gave preliminary approval to the Beaufort County School District's proposed $182.9 million budget for 2013-14, which would add 20 positions but not increase taxes. Two more affirmative votes are required for the budget to be approved.

  • Approved a plan to expand the Tax Equalization Board from seven to 15 members in an effort to clear a backlog of nearly 200 property tax-valuation appeals.

  • Approved a $155,000 contract with O'Quinn Marine Construction of Beaufort to build a 660-foot boardwalk and 24-foot pier at the Crystal Lake Preserve Park on Lady's Island.

For the first time in five years, Beaufort County is proposing a property-tax increase.

County Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to the proposed $99.35 million budget for 2013-14, which includes a property-tax hike of up to 4.28 percent, the maximum increase allowed under state law.

The measure advanced on a 9-2 vote, with Councilmen Steve Baer and Brian Flewelling opposed. Two subsequent votes are required for final approval.

Baer said he dissented in part because of the tax increase. But he also expressed concerns about the spending plan.

"We have increased taxes, and we haven't been very careful where we spend money," he said.

The county's current $97.1 million budget expires June 30. The new budget takes effect July 1 when the next fiscal year starts.

The budget plan includes a host of wish-list items, including increasing library hours from 40 to 50 a week, installing a new ambulance and crew on both sides of the county, and purchasing heavy equipment and other items put off over the past five years.

It also would give county employees a 2 percent raise but eliminate 30 of 60 vacant positions, which would reduce the county workforce to 922 positions. Previously, the county proposed cutting 50 open positions.

More details about the budget will be released before the second of three readings scheduled for June 10. It's also likely that some of the wish-list items will change.

"We're at a point where we have zeroed-in on what we believe is the total budget amount of revenue," Councilman Stu Rodman said. "There is a list of identified projects that make that up, and we will be fine-tuning that list as we go forward."

While the proposal is far from settled, council Chairman Paul Sommerville said it appears that council will approve higher taxes next year. If that happens, some residents will face a double-whammy as a result of the property-value reassessment currently underway.

Council plans a full "roll forward" on tax rates, allowing the county to collect the same amount of revenue to balance out the drop in property values expected from reassessment.

If an owner's property value should rise, however, his or her taxes will increase under the roll forward and again if the new budget is approved with the property-tax hike.

Assuming the budget advances from a second reading, a public hearing and final vote on the spending plan is scheduled for June 24.

Council won't set the tax rate until late August, meaning any discussion about higher taxes won't end until well after the budget is approved.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

Related content:

Council to consider expanding tax-appeals board due to years-long backlog, May 19, 2013

Beaufort County might eliminate 50 vacant positions, May 1, 2013

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