County Manager Wayne Vest’s pronouncement last week that a property tax hike is likely should surprise no one. He has spent the better part of two years saying that growth, the demand for services and higher education spending would necessitate it.
During last year’s successful $103 million school construction bond referendum campaign, Vest and other county leaders were up-front with voters that higher taxes would be needed, in part, to repay the debt incurred from building three new elementary schools in Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst.
Further, the construction and opening this August of the new McDeeds Creek Elementary School in Southern Pines is an additional expense. And that’s before we tack on the $15 million renovation and expansion of North Moore High School slated for later this year.
And so Vest told commissioners this past week at their annual winter summit that taxes will go up as much as 6.5 cents from their current level of 46.5 cents for every $100 of value. Further, he said that whatever the final number ends up being — factors could make it less than 6.5 cents — commissioners should raise the rate all at once instead of phasing it in.
Expenses Adding Up
Moore County has not raised its property tax in more than 10 years. Even after the severe economic downturn 10 years ago that decimated property values, commissioners kept the rate stable, opting to tighten budgets instead.
In that time, Moore County has added hundreds of new homes with residents in need of everything from water to recreation space. The Sheriff’s Office has seen increased growth, as has the Department of Social Services, public health, planning — you name it.
To all that you can add an aging educational infrastructure, which the county has delayed action on for years. The debt voters approved for new schools will consolidate or replace buildings well over 70 years old.
Commissioners and their staff have done an admirable job of keeping taxes reined in these past 10 years, and we’re not anxious to see them go up, but we appreciate the need and respect the diligence in making sure any added spending is essential spending.
And better we raise the rate all at once, rather than experience the drip-drip-drip of multiple years of hikes. Just do it at once and then hold the rate steady rather than needle taxpayers every year with small increases.
And the tax rate may not go up the full 6.5 cents. Voter approval of a quarter-cent increase of the sales tax last November will raise about $3 million earmarked for school construction costs. Had we not approved that, we’d likely be looking at an even higher tax increase.
Also, all properties are being revalued this year, meaning the tax base likely will go up. If that increase is significant enough, Moore might not need as high of a hike in the tax rate to bring in the revenue sufficient.
There are a number of nay-sayers out there who decry the arrival of “New England-style taxes” to Moore County. That’s ludicrous, if for no other reason than Moore County officials have long demonstrated their desire to go without than to raise taxes.
But patrol cars need replacing. Caseloads for social workers are only going one way, and it’s not down. And in our schools, the technology and computer networks that power our digital learning are outdated. Warranties are expired and replacement parts aren’t even available anymore for our systems.
We’ll find out more this spring when Vest rolls out his budget. And don’t assume a big hike is locked in. As Commissioner Louis Gregory said last week, “We want to keep our property taxes as low as possible.”