Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – May 24, 2019

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – May 24, 2019

The Berlin Town Council is expected to approve its fiscal year 2020 budget next week after officially setting the tax rate – an approximate 18% increase — at last week’s meeting.

Many community members have expressed outrage for months over the property tax rate increase, from 68 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 80 cents. Once the rate increase was settled upon, Mayor Gee Williams and council members took turns last week explaining why the tax rate increase was necessary while also asking for civility from town citizens, many of whom have been critical of their elected representatives and the town’s management.

Councilman Troy Purnell has been busy over the last week working the phones and emails defending the town. Purnell said Thursday he had ignoring social media criticism of the town for weeks, but has recently started responding to commenters on this newspaper’s Facebook page because of the misinformation. For instance, he adamantly denied a commenter’s claim Berlin Falls Park sits on toxic land yesterday.

On these editorial pages, I have been critical of the town’s management over the years, specifically the borrowing of general fund dollars to address deficits in the town’s utility funds. Purnell reached out to me this week with a detailed accounting of my home’s property to prove a point he has been making to many other property owners. He said the town’s planned property tax hike comes after 15 years of no increases and even a decrease at one point. Purnell points out the town has also cut expenses by 14% for the next fiscal year. He said in most cases, including my residential property, the amount residents pay in taxes to the town will resemble what they paid back in 2009. The numbers support what he’s saying.

For my property, with the approved tax increase, my Berlin tax bill for the next fiscal year will be $3,118 (based on the 80-cent tax rate on the phased-in assessment of $389,866) It was $2,567 this year based on a $377,633 assessment and a tax rate of 68 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. It’s a significant single year increase, but Purnell maintains a more holistic approach is needed when evaluating taxes. Because assessments are done on a three-year cycle and phased in for primary residences, my Berlin taxes have fluctuated, from a low of $2,118 when my property value dipped to $311,500 to my previous high tax bill of $3,101 in 2009 when the assessed value was $424,860. Overall, from 2008 to 2020 with the new tax rate, my taxes paid to the town will increase from $2,701 to $3,118, an 11% increase.

Purnell said the reality is most property owners will be paying nearly the same amount of taxes next year than they did 10 years ago. In my case, he is correct. While I will be paying more than I did last year, it will be only $17 more than I paid in 2009.

It’s important to note Berlin property owners also need to be aware of the county’s planned one-cent property tax rate increase, from 83.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 84.5 cents in the next fiscal year. A review of my home’s county tax history shows a 27% increase from fiscal year 2008 to 2020, from $2,590 to $3,293 (assuming the county goes ahead with the one-cent increase).

What does all this mean? It’s important to dedicate the time into your own individual scenarios. Yes, it’s true property owners will be paying more to the town than they did last year, but in most cases it’s about what they were paying 10 years ago.

Furthermore, while a lot of attention has been put on the Town of Berlin, what’s happening in Snow Hill with the County Commissioners increasing the property tax rate by a penny is considerable. A 27% increase in county taxes in 13 years on a single property, as was the case for my home in Berlin, has me just as concerned today about what’s happening in Snow Hill as in Town Hall.

About The Author: Steven Green

Alternative Text

The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.