SNOW HILL – Though several officials call it unlikely, Worcester County property owners could see as much as a 15.7-cent property tax increase.
The Worcester County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to advertise for an increase of 15.7 cents per $100 of assessment. That’s what it would take to fund the county’s $22 million budget shortfall. Requested operating expenditures for FY 2016 come to $189.8 million, while revenues are only expected to reach $167.5 million in the coming year.
“We have to advertise the difference between the money we have available and the budget request,” Commissioner Bud Church said.
Last week, staff members proposed advertising for a 6.7-cent increase, as that’s what they considered necessary once the commissioners went over the budget. At the urging of the commissioners, however, they adjusted that rate to what it would need to be for the county to actually fund the requested FY 2016 budget.
“If we set it at six cents, everybody’s going to know we’re cutting eight cents somewhere,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said at the time.
So county staff went back and determined that it would take a 15.7-cent increase to fully fund the requested budget. The number being advertised is even higher than the 14.4-cent increase previously discussed because the constant yield tax rate cannot include corporate and rail taxes.
In spite of the number being advertised, several commissioners have said the actual property tax increase residents can expect will not be that high.
“I do believe there’s going to be a tax increase but I think it will be between three and four cents,” Church said. “That’s just a guess. We’re mandated to advertise our projected budget and that’s what we’ve done.”
Church said county officials would not fund every one of the budget requests made by county departments.
Commissioner Chip Bertino agreed. He said that being a taxpayer himself, he was going to try to find ways to cut costs so that residents wouldn’t face a substantial tax increase.
“I’m going to work hard so that it’s not that high,” he said.
Like Church, he believes a slight increase is unavoidable.
“I don’t see how we can’t have an increase of some sort,” he said. “To maintain and fund the level of last year’s budget would require an increase.”
As he told his fellow commissioners last week, Bertino still has concerns about the timing of the budget process. He doesn’t like the fact the commissioners have to advertise for a potential increase before having time to make any cuts to the proposed budget.
“For me, it defies logic,” he said. “In some ways, we’re putting the cart before the horse.”
Bertino is hoping that next year the timeline can be adjusted so officials can begin balancing the budget before the required advertisement is published. He said he hoped at least that by advertising the tax increase required to fully fund the budget would get people interested in the process.
“I do hope notice of what we agreed to really engages taxpayers and gets them down to the public hearing,” he said.
Church said he certainly expects to get some calls when people read of the potential 15.7-cent increase.
“The problem is the public’s going to see that and take that as gospel,” he said. “In reality, it’s not.”
Worcester County’s current tax rate of 77 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation has been in place since FY 2013. Before that, from FY 2007 to FY 2012, it was 70 cents.