“Do I want to raise taxes? No,” said Commissioner Vicki Greene. “Do I feel that there is a need to raise the rate in order to provide the same level of services that we have been providing as well as provide for a couple of construction projects other than the public schools? Yes, I do.”
Due to the decreased value of property following the revaluation completed this year — the first since the recession hit at the end of 2008 — the county would have had to raise its rate to 35.3 cents per $100 to keep its revenue stream the same. But increased funding requests from the Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad and Harris Regional Hospital, with whom Jackson contracts for ambulance services in the northern end of the county, came in as well. The expenditures are necessary, commissioners decided, and this year the county will likely budget an additional $942,000 to fund the two entities, equivalent to 1 cent on the tax rate.
“There’s not $942,000 in our budget that we can take out unless we make some other decision,” County Manager Chuck Wooten told commissioners.
Thus, an extra cent on the tax rate, bringing the total up to 36.3 cents. But commissioners voiced support for bumping it up to 37 cents in view of the long list of capital projects on the horizon — a new or remodeled Health Department building, a new animal shelter, expanded space in the justice center and future investments at Southwestern Community College.
For Commissioner Boyce Deitz, who sees himself as the board’s most fiscally conservative member and says it “pains” him to advocate for a tax increase, a rate even higher than 37 cents would be worthy of consideration.
“Myself, I wouldn’t mind if it was a cent higher or two,” he said. “I know that’s probably an unpopular thing to say, but I hate to set it at a place where we don’t have a dime to do anything.”
Commissioners will likely stave off a final decision on the tax rate until after the second primary on June 7. A referendum question during that election will ask voters to approve an additional quarter-cent sales tax. The proceeds from the tax, if approved, would go to fund capital construction at Southwestern Community College and Jackson County Schools, commissioners have said.
“There is uncertainty yet as to what is going to happen,” McMahan said. “I think it would be wise on our part to wait until June 7 to make that final decision.”
Jackson isn’t unique in the situation it’s found itself in regarding property values. Last year, Macon County went through the same thing, facing a tax increase after a revaluation left it with a reduced overall value. At the time, Macon and Jackson both had 28-cent tax rates, the lowest in the state, but Macon bumped its rate to 34.9 cents per $100 of value — a rate that made its budget revenue-neutral, nothing more and nothing less. At a revenue-neutral rate, the average homeowner — though exact impact varies greatly between individual properties — pays the same amount in property taxes even though the rate is higher.
At 37 cents, Jackson’s taxes would still be on the low end, ranking sixth lowest out of 100 counties in North Carolina but slightly higher than those in Macon, Swain and Clay counties.
Tax rates around the region
Graham: 58.5 cents per $100 of value
Haywood: 56.61 cents
Cherokee: 52 cents
Clay: 36 cents
Swain: 36 cents
Macon: 34.9 cents
Jackson: 28 cents (but proposed to rise to 0.37)
Figures based on 2015-16 budgets as reported at www.dor.state.nc.us.