Berlin Council Votes 3-1 To Hold Tax Rate Steady

Berlin Council Votes 3-1 To Hold Tax Rate Steady
The Berlin Town Council meeting, which was live streamed via Facebook Live for the public, is pictured. File Photo

BERLIN –   Town officials voted to maintain Berlin’s current tax rate going into the next fiscal year.

On Monday the Berlin Town Council voted 3-1, with Councilman Zack Tyndall opposed, to maintain the current tax rate of $.80 per $100 of assessed value into fiscal year 2021. Tyndall advocated for the constant yield rate, which would have represented a slight decrease in the cost to residents.

“If we look at what we spent last year, nobody suffered last year,” Tyndall said. “Here at town hall, no individual or service was cut. The constant yield rate would maintain that and it would provide some relief to the people of Berlin.”

Though town officials had initially planned for a modest tax hike in fiscal year 2021, Mayor Gee Williams announced at the start of the current health crisis that the concept of a tax increase this year was being abandoned. Instead, officials advertised that the town planned to maintain the rate of $.80. Even with the rate not going up, the town is set to receive roughly $150,000 more than it did last year because of the increase in assessed value.

When Tyndall asked about the constant yield rate — which would keep the town’s revenue at the same level it was the previous year — Finance Director Natalie Saleh said the town’s rate was 2% above the constant yield rate, which would be slightly less than $.79.

She added that the town would be receiving some of its revenue late because the state was operating with reduced staff during the pandemic.

Tyndall said he’d like to see the town adopt the constant yield rate.

“I talk to people and I listen in public,” he said. “Everybody says it’s high and that they’re strapped. If we can provide a little bit of economic relief at a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty… I’d like us to at least take a serious look at the constant yield rate.”

Williams said the town had to ensure it could continue to offer the services it provided residents. He added that the town’s property tax revenues could be impacted by appeals.

The mayor said holding the tax rate at $.80 was the responsible thing to do.

“We have a responsibility to pay our bills and provide the services,” he said. “Nobody wants this situation but it’s our job to do our job and make sure we provide the services that people absolutely depend on.”

Tyndall brought up the unemployment rate.

“Look at the macroeconomic environment,” he said. “That is going to trickle down to us.”

Williams said the town didn’t create the problem.

“We’re not the ones who have control over the macroeconomics of what’s happening in this country,” he said, adding that the town’s job was to provide essential services to residents. “If we face a financial dilemma later, we might have to reduce the budget but right now I think it would be irresponsible to start cutting further into our potential revenues when we know there’s so many potential pitfalls that may happen.”

He said Tyndall’s suggestion was a “nice thought” but maintained that cutting the rate at all would be irresponsible.

“It may not be popular but I think my responsibility is to do what I think is right for the town and not continue doing something that’s a feel good type thing,” Williams said.

Councilman Troy Purnell pointed out that what Tyndall proposed would amount to a roughly $60 tax credit on a $300,000 home. He added that the last time the town cut the tax rate it had been a huge mistake.

Tyndall said $60 was a lot to some people.

“I’m very sorry if that’s going to make or break someone,” Williams said. “If that is their life, it’s beyond our rescue.”

The council voted 3-1, with Tyndall opposed, to approve the tax rate of $.80. The council will host a public hearing on the fiscal year 2021 budget May 26.

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.