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Is a tax increase inevitable?

By Dave Viser. While town officials are keeping their oinions close to the vest, the possibility that your property taxes will rise is very real, due to growing needs in public safety and parks and recreation.

Higher valuations don’t automatically mean higher taxes: The rate can be adjusted down to “revenue neutral,” or a little above or even a little below.

Given the town’s appetite for public safety, a net decrease in your tax bill appears unlikely.

Former Town Commissioner Jim Duke is a respected budget expert, having worked in top finance positions at the Pentagon and the White House. He served two terms on the town board which means four budget cycles.

DUKE

“I think it is safe to say that the rate will go down, but revenue will need to increase so there needs to be rate above revenue neutral,” Duke said.

In plain English there will likely be a reduction in the rate, but not so much as to deny the Town the revenue it needs to address  fiscal challenges facing Cornelius.

Municipal taxes comprise 25 percent to 30 percent of a property owner’s tax bill. The remainder consists of county taxes over which Cornelius officials have no control.

Next year’s tax rate will come into focus starting in March. 

A Newsmakers Breakfast on the county-wide property revaluation will be held Feb. 20 at The Peninsula Club.

By state law, the town is required to publish a revenue neutral tax rate when the preliminary budget is unveiled in May.

This is the tax rate which would be needed to maintain the current amount of revenue coming into town coffers using the new tax values. There is no legal requirement to adopt this rate.

The tax rate is currently 25.5 cents per $100 of tax value, which equates to about $630 in municipal taxes on a home valued at $250,000. It is one of the lowest town tax rates for a town our size in the state.

Looming large are police and fire budgets. Wages lag nearby towns competing for talent. Pay is still under review, but it’s no secret that the town has lost top-notch people to places like Huntersville and Charlotte.

There are other factors which could hurt plans for a revenue neutral budget: Interest rates are creeping higher and the cost of debt service will grow significantly. The town has $24 million in transportation bonds coming.

The Town could lose its AAA Bond rating without an adequate fund balance.

One of the elephants in the room is the notion of a full-time fire department—a costly undertaking. “Pay issues abound, and staff levels are at austere levels,” Duke said, adding that there are millions more dollar needed by the PARC Dept.

“Costs continue to rise and we end up spending more on replacement than if we had just maintained what we have. Regarding road repair, we don’t match our federal grant money so we are forced to do sidewalks one year and road work the next,” Duke said.

The annual budget retreat is March 7 and 8 at Graylyn Conference Center in Winston Salem. The public may attend. Private citizens like Duke may attend.

The budget for the new fiscal year must be approved before Fiscal Year 2019-2020 starts July 1. The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners must adopt a new budget by the same date.

The new tax rates, both on the town and county level, will apply to tax bills mailed out in late summer and payable by year-end.

New assessment notices to some 400,000 property owners were mailed Jan. 23.  View your new assessment online at www.meckreval.com.   You can also appeal your assessment at this site.

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