Worcester County Facing Inevitable Tax Hike

Worcester County Facing Inevitable Tax Hike

Things are getting tense in Snow Hill and it’s not just because Worcester County government does not have enough money to fund everything it did last year.

It’s a disturbing fact that Worcester has a $22 million difference between expected revenues and forecasted expenditures for the next fiscal year. It’s been known dating back to last spring the county was going to have to raise taxes if it was to continue funding public education at suitable levels. The commissioners probably should have implemented a slight tax increase last year to improve the picture but that wasn’t happening in an election year when incumbents were looking to retain their seats in the fall vote.

The question before County Commissioners now is how much to raise taxes. You know it’s bad when officials can’t even agree on the amount to inform the public through a required advertisement about when it comes to an expected tax increase. The county is looking at increasing the property tax rate from anywhere between 6.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 14.4 cents. It’s a major difference, yes, but the significance of the increase should not be overlooked.

For a $300,000 piece of property, the current property tax rate of 77 cents means an annual property tax payment of $2,310. For the same property, a 6.7-cent property tax increase will mean an increase of $192. If the county goes to the extreme consideration of 14.4 cents, the same property owner will experience an annual jump of $432.

Indeed, times are tight in Snow Hill and tensions are running high over it among the commissioners. Clearly, the seven commissioners are not on the same page and that’s a good thing because there was way too much rubberstamping and fake unity on display in public previously.

It’s a welcome change to see the discourse playing out in public as it has in recent months. The budget process seems to be particularly shining a spotlight on the officials’ differences as well as their approach to financial questions.

The reality here is these commissioners were handed a nightmare financial picture by their predecessors. The former board was well aware of the projections for this year based on the decision last year to not increase taxes in favor of raiding the budget stabilization fund. They simply passed the buck down the line due to politics.

The time has come to address this budget and the tax rate increase will most likely hinge on how large of a withdrawal the county makes from its budget stabilization fund. As much as $10 million has been discussed in previous meetings. If the county goes that route, the tax increase can be limited somewhat to the lower extreme. There seems to be some philosophical differences among the commissioners on whether to deplete that account with some wanting that security blanket to be around while others say it’s there to help in dark times.

It’s clear tough decisions lie ahead, and a good and obvious start was the recent hiring freeze enacted. With public safety and education typically off limits for cuts and no other sizable reductions obvious, the county is in a pickle.

While there seem to be some major personalities on the board and some feathers have clearly been ruffled by the new commissioners’ strong positions, some of the stress and pressure should be blamed on the previous body because they left a messy financial house behind. The reality is bad news is coming, as taxes are heading up and what’s left to decide is by how much.