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Cornelius News

Verdict still out on town tax increase

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April 4. By Dave Vieser.¬†Predicting whether Cornelius commissioners will increase town taxes might be harder than naming the teams in a NCAA bracket: Most of the town board members are taking a wait and see attitude. The chief reason for a one-cent tax increase in next year’s budget would be due to the need to accumulate the funds needed for burying utility lines along the West Catawba Avenue corridor. Indeed there are plenty of other projects on the town’s capital project wish list.

“We are not nearly far enough along in the budget process to determine whether a tax increase is necessary or not,” said Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam.

“This is being driven in part by some decisions that are optional,” added the newest town commissioner, Dr. Mike Miltich. He wants to get more information from our town manager before making any decision.

Commissioner Dave Gilroy has made his position crystal clear. When asked if he would consider supporting a tax increase for the utility line burial, the veteran commissioner said: “I’m opposed. Unnecessary.”

Gilroy said de facto tax increases have occurred, “because property valuations are rising and will continue to rise. It’s a separate issue as to whether we want to compound that problem by increasing our tax rate as well. It is totally unnecessary in my view.”

In his monthly newsletter, Commissioner Jim Duke seemed to line up with Washam and Miltich. “There are those who will oppose improvements that will stretch our tax rate. I believe we need to examine all options and do what is best for the future of our Town.”

Commissioner Thurman Ross said the jury is still out on a tax increase. Explaining that planning for the future is key, Ross said the decision to save some $200,000 by build the Police Station two decades ago without a basement was hardly a savings in light of the town’s growth.

Several of the commissioners will be holding community meetings within the next month to gather the opinion of town residents. Commissioners Duke and Washam are conducting their monthly coffee chat today at 9 am, at the Acropolis. Town Manager Anthony Roberts will be making a presentation on the 2017 budget, and the town’s five year financial challenge. “Our five-year plan reveals many strong points as well as some challenges for our town,” Washam said.

Tomorrow at 6 pm, Miltich will conduct a community meeting at Prosciutto’s in the Shops at the Green on Torrence Chapel Road. “Even with a one cent increase, Cornelius is still the low-tax municipality, but is this what we want to spend our citizen’s money on? I want to get some opinions,” Miltich said.

Town finance Director Jackie Huffman told town officials at their recent budget retreat that a one cent tax increase would generate about $520,000 annually. The town’s tax rate, currently 24 cents/$100 tax valuation, is one of the lowest in the area: Huntersville’s rate is currently 30.5 cents/$100 tax value, while Davidson’s is 35 cents/$100 tax value. For a resident with a home valued at the town’s median value of $250,000 the increase would amount to about $25 a year. Town taxes only comprise about 20 percent of the average annual residential tax bill, with the remainder being county taxes.

Still, the tax increase decision will not be an easy one for the town’s commissioners. “While I’m generally opposed to tax increases, I am awaiting more information from the town manager regarding his recommendation and reasoning one way or the other,” Washam said. Due to the importance of the issue, he has added two more community input sessions for May, prior to a decision on the budget.

If the board raises the town tax rate, it would be the first increase since 2007. Over the past several years, the tax rate has actually been reduced from 27.5 cents/$100 tax value to the current rate of 24 cents/$100 value.

Any changes in the tax rate would go into effect July 1, as part of the adopted 2017 town fiscal year budget.