LUMBERTON — Robeson County commissioners are determined there will be no increase in property taxes during the next fiscal year even though the county manager hinted one might be needed.
“I’m not in favor of any tax increase,” said Commissioner Roger Oxendine. “There is already enough burden on the landowners. I think the landowners are already bearing the brunt of the tax burden.”
County Manager Ricky Harris told the commissioners last week that they should look at possibly upping the property tax rate by 2 cents, to 79 cents per $100 of property value, which would cost the owner of a $150,000 home an additional $25 a year. Harris said the budget that will become effective July 1 is difficult to put together because of health insurance costs.
Robeson County’s tax rate of 77 cents is the 25th highest of 100 counties in North Carolina. Commissioner Raymond Cummings also is lining up against climbling that list.
“We can find other means of coming up with revenue. We can trim some fat from the budget,” he said. “I’m not in favor of any tax increase. I have never voted for a tax increase and I don’t plan to start doing it now.”
The commissioners have made it clear to Harris that they will not accept even a single-cent increase in the tax rate. One cent on the county tax rate generates in excess of $500,000, Harris said Friday.
“All budgets are challenging because of our expectations to continue the highest level of customer service and reduce expenses,” Harris said. “Overall, the goal of this budget reflects essential services and sustainable recommendations that will further elevate the quality of life for our employees and citizens of Robeson County.”
On Monday, the commissioners are meeting at 6 p.m. at the county administration building on North Elm Street in Lumberton to begin finalizing the county budget. Harris is recommending a budget of just more than $149 million, a total that is down from the current fiscal year’s total budget of about $153.2 million.
As proposed, a major increase in the budget for the coming year is in the area of health insurance. The cost to cover health insurance will be $3.5 million, Harris said.
The manager’s budget recommendation calls for no cost-of-living increase for employees, fee increases for water and landfill, and the elimination of two positions, one in Solid Waste and one in the Inspections Department. Both positions are currently vacant.
Special appropriations, except for the Public Schools of Robeson County, Robeson Community College and the Robeson County Public Library, will remain the same as in the current budget, according to the manager’s recommendation. It is also recommended that the current policy of closing county offices during the week following Christmas be continued.
According to the manager’s proposed budget, improvements to county water treatment facilities will continue; construction will take place on the state mandated 911 backup center; plans will move forward to renovate the former BB&T building for county office space; automated meter infrastructure will be installed to improve accuracy of water meter reading; and an additional $50,000 will be available for the purchase of vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We must continue to develop alternatives to reduce the expense of lease and rent costs for several housed county departments,” Harris said in his budget message. “… The greatest challenge to our staff is to do more with fewer resources.”
Harris said Friday that there are still areas being studied in the budget to see if cuts can be made without hurting services.
“We’re looking at everything,” Harris said.
Tom Taylor, chairman of the county board, also said he won’t support a property tax increase, but is calling for an increase in the state sales tax as a way to help fund county governmental operations and services provided county residents.
“I don’t want any tax increase, but if one is necessary it needs to be the sales tax,” said Taylor. “That’s the only fair tax. Everyone pays their fair share. If you buy something, you pay for it. If you don’t buy anything, you don’t pay anything.”
Commissioner David Edge told his fellow commissioners last week when the budget was introduced that it is going to be necessary to make county employees pay their share for health insurance. Currently employees pay nothing, except when they have family members included on the policy.
Edge pointed to the free and reduced service costs to employees who use the county’s Wellness Center and pharmacy.
“Our benefits are so much more than other businesses offer their employees,” Edge said. “We have a fat program and need to come up with a program that will cost our employees something … . Boys, we can’t put this off another year. We have to bite the bullet.”
Bob Shiles can be reached t 910-416-5165.