Worcester To Advertise Property Tax Hike, But It Might Not Happen

SNOW HILL – Though budget work sessions have only just begun, county officials agreed to advertise for a potential tax increase to fund the current shortfall.

On Tuesday the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to advertise for a real property tax rate of $.867 per $100 of assessment. That rate is 5.5 percent higher than the constant yield tax rate and would generate the $6.7 million needed to cover the shortfall in the proposed $204 million FY 2018 budget.

The current tax rate is $.835 per $100 of assessment. While the county is forced to advertise in advance for any potential tax increase, Commissioner Jim Bunting stressed that an increase didn’t have to occur.

“That’s only if we can’t figure out a way to cut (the proposed budget),” he said. “This commissioner is not considering raising taxes.”

Though staff presented the commissioners with an advertisement outlining a potential tax rate of $.856, commissioners said that wasn’t accurate because it was based on a proposed budget that utilized $1.7 million in budget stabilization funds.

“I don’t feel we’re being as transparent as we could be,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “It doesn’t reflect what is really going on with the budget.”

He advocated for the removal of the budget stabilization funds from the proposed spending plan. That, he said, would show the public what the county was truly facing — a $6,645,271 deficit.

Budget Officer Kathy Whited said she had no problem with removing the stabilization funds and said it would simply change the ad the commissioners were approving to outline a potential tax rate of $.867 rather than $.856.

Bertino’s peers agreed with him. Bunting said including that funding in the county’s revenues was misleading.

“It doesn’t become revenue until we adopt it,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Elder said using the stabilization funds made it look as if the deficit was less than it actually was.

“It’s misleading to the public because they look at estimated revenues rather than the line items,” he said. “It looks like we had revenues more than we did.”

The commissioners voted 6-0, with Commissioner Joe Mitrecic absent, to remove the stabilization funds from the proposed budget. They subsequently voted to approve a revised advertisement outlining the potential $.867 tax rate county residents could face if the current shortfall isn’t eliminated through budget cuts.

The commissioners have a budget work session scheduled for April 11.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.