County manager, commissioner chair: revenue-neutral tax rate unlikely

FULL HOUSE: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners heard from members of the public about the proposed budget for next fiscal year. The big takeaway was the county manager and commission chair stating that a revenue-neutral property tax rate is not likely to happen.
FULL HOUSE: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners heard from members of the public about the proposed budget for next fiscal year. The big takeaway was the county manager and commission chair stating that a revenue-neutral property tax rate is not likely to happen. Photo by Dan Hesse

“Getting to revenue-neutral probably is not realistic, as much as I’d love to do that.” — Commission Chair Brownie Newman

“When you look at 2018, I don’t believe we can lower [the property tax rate] to revenue-neutral and fund requests related to core services.” — County Manager Wanda Greene

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners did not take any official action on the proposed budget during a nearly five-hour meeting Tuesday, June 6. However, the property tax rate picture became a bit clearer as talks revealed that achieving a revenue-neutral rate is likely not in the cards.

Community chest

The meeting opened with nearly two hours of open public comment as about 50 people waited to speak their mind on various issues like climate change and development concerns.  A large number of people speaking were representing nonprofits that potentially stand to be beneficiaries of community funding grants or receive money via contracted services.

Robin Merrell, with Pisgah Legal Services, explained that some previous donors would not be contributing because of various reasons. She noted that county support is paramount: “We may lose $550,000 in funding from other sources. We have laid off one staff member, we may have to lay off more. We can’t afford to lose our funding from you.”

“We can solve food insecurity. The investment you have made has made a difference,” explained MANNA FoodBank’s Katy German.

However, not everyone was looking to ask for money as Carl Mumpower, chairman of the Buncombe County Republican Party, asked commissioners to be careful with taxpayer dollars. He said the county’s growth is a blessing and a concern and asked commissioners to “take advantage of the recent property revaluation by not adding an additional tax burden.”

“There are 45,000 Republicans I represent tonight who would appreciate that,” he noted.

To that end, this year’s property revaluation shows that the county’s property tax base now stands at about $31.5 billion. That’s up by $6.8 billion, a 28 percent increase from the county’s 2013 assessment, which valued taxable property at $24.7 billion.

Commissioners will consider nearly $11 million in community funding requests from more than 40 nonprofit organizations. Above, Pam Myers with the Asheville Art Museum reiterates her organization's request for $500,000. Photo by Dan Hesse
FUNDING REQUESTS: Commissioners will consider nearly $11 million in community funding requests from more than 40 nonprofit organizations. Above, Pam Myers with the Asheville Art Museum reiterates her organization’s request for $500,000. Photo by Dan Hesse

At this rate

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, starting July 1, is $419,289,728. That dollar amount is an increase of $5.7 million, or 1.4 percent, over the current budget. It has a property tax rate of 55.9 cents per $100 of valued property, or $1,118 for a home valued at $200,000. A revenue-neutral rate would be 51.3 cents, and would equal a $1,026 bill for a home valued at $200,000.

“I’ve heard very clearly that we need to bring that rate down,” said County Manager Wanda Greene in reference to the 55.9 rate.

County resident Roy Harrison said that rate affects his long-term plans. “I have a concern, and it is that I’m retired. … Am I going to stay in Buncombe County? That’s one question I’m asking. Can I afford to stay in Buncombe County?” he pondered.

“These budget considerations have a great effect on me, people of my age, people of color … as we go forward, I’ll be watching.”

Commissioner Robert Pressley said he wished the property tax rate could go as low as 50 cents. “Most commissioners know my big concern is what we are going to do with elderly. A lot own their property but don’t actually own it because they are making [tax] payments every year,” he lamented.

Greene then said she doesn’t believe revenue-neutral is possible while maintaining a required level of funding in core services. She also went on to urge commissioners to work with the N.C. General Assembly to raise the property tax exemption rate for the elderly population. Greene said the current required income level of around $29,000 for those exemptions does not reflect the reality of living in Buncombe County. “It’s time to take a look at that. It’s been about 10 years since we got that exemption,” she noted, adding that she thinks the income requirement could definitely be increased.

Commissioner Joe Belcher addressed the multitude of funding requests. “There are those that have come here tonight that are passionate about things; it doesn’t mean those will be funded at the level requested,” he explained. “The need is great, and the requests are multiplying year after year. We have to make decisions and say where we are comfortable with the tax rate.”

Commissioner Chair Brownie Newman said he wants the rate below 55.9 cents. “The question is how low can we go while doing the things we want to do. We also need to look into the future and set a tax rate as low as we can go, but one that is sustainable and that preserves the triple-A bond rating,” he said.

“Getting to revenue-neutral probably is not realistic, as much as I’d love to do that.”

Commissioners are set to discuss and approve the budget at their next meeting Tuesday, June 20.

For more information about the budget process, see Xpress‘ previous coverage below:

 

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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22 thoughts on “County manager, commissioner chair: revenue-neutral tax rate unlikely

  1. dyfed

    Can the County say no to any of the groups coming with their hand out, waiting to put it in our pockets?

    “Don’t hold your breath,” says county.

  2. luther blissett

    “A lot own their property but don’t actually own it because they are making [tax] payments every year”

    Uh, is someone going to tell Mr Pressley what “ownership” means?

    • Lulz

      When someone explains to you cronyism, corruption, and waste. Your friends in the other thread blatantly stayed that such thing permeates in local government because of the southern culture. And yet government here is filled by outsiders LOL. So in other words they stand by fraud perpetuated by the likes of Newman and Greene. Par for the course for you folks.

      • luther blissett

        blah blah blah blah boooooooring. Get a new schtick, because your current one is an ongoing shambles.

        Some states lean towards taxing income. Other states favor taxing purchases. All states tax ownership of real estate.

        Either Mr Pressley hasn’t had this gently explained to him or all that exposure to lead in exhaust fumes during his NASCAR days has taken its toll. In a county where renters consistently get the shaft, whether in Asheville or beyond, the complaints of old property owners sitting on six-figure unearned capital gains deserve the world’s tiniest violin.

          • Lulz

            LOL makes fun of bringing about poverty because he views southerners with disdain.

          • bsummers

            Yeah right – because complaining about taxes is a “southern” thing? Nobody likes taxes.

            And I only hold a few, specific southerners with disdain.

        • Lulz

          LOL 4 years before a required valuation. And of course increases. LOL scam.

        • Lulz

          And yet doesn’t explain why property owners are on the hook for multi million dollar corporations who use tax money bribes as a means of making bank.

  3. Lulz

    No one has yet to explain why the need for reevaluations 4 years before they were due. But of course it’s smoke and mirrors for tax increases. Which the crooks were too scared of simply raising without the property value excuses. This is how the crooks operate. And they’re hurting a lot of people to keep the farce going.

    • luther blissett

      It’s been explained countless times, but since listening would get in the way of your repetitive rants, you didn’t bother.

      Strange how someone with a schtick about being a blue-collar native wants the out-of-towner LLCs who own booming primo downtown real estate to get a massive tax break at the expense of owners of small homes in the county.

      • Actually, city residents pay an absurd share of the county costs for which they receive reduced benefit.

        Why, for example, is the county rate the same for Asheville residents as for unincorporated county residents when they receive a different set of services. Asheville residents have to pay for their own police services, whereas county (only) residents are serviced by the sheriffs department which is paid for by all.

        City residents get screwed.

  4. bsummers
    2 days ago
    Be gentle. Commissioner Pressley’s head has been knocked around more than a few times.

    bsummers
    2 days ago
    And I only hold a few, specific southerners with disdain.

    [“Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.”]

    • luther blissett

      Does T-Peck believe that property taxes should continue to exist? Yes or no.

  5. Huhsure

    Give him some time, Luther. It takes him a while to adjust to the new time zone when he posts here.

  6. Robert Thompson

    How about having the Business of Religion start paying their fair share?

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