So now we know.

For more than a year now, Moore County Manager Wayne Vest has been prepping everyone for a great disruption in the force field of local politics. Not one to be accused of undercommunicating, Vest has long warned a property tax increase would be likely for the 2019–20 budget.

And so the spending plan he delivered to the Board of Commissioners Tuesday made good on his persistent prognosticating. A 4.5-cent tax increase is baked in to his proposed budget.

“It’s a bold budget,” he said in reference to a budget that not only increases revenues but — are you sitting down for this?! — raises spending too!

“It makes a bold move. Some will say it’s not bold enough. Others will say it is too bold. I think we found the right spot.”

This is world-class spin, but then when you propose a tax hike — and higher spending — in Moore County, you better be ready to sell sell sell.

Better Than the Rest

Generally, we support Vest’s overall direction. There are plenty of places with which we can quibble on spending priorities, but broadly this budget needs to happen, and that’s because the Moore County commissioners have engaged in magical thinking for years. Even though we’ve had a healthy growth rate and seen increased demand for government service, government has been slow to respond.

Commissioners have kept the tax rate unchanged for more than 10 years. And, for the most part, they have tried for years either to reduce spending year over year or keep it flat.

That fiscal conservatism has reaped its own rewards. We enjoy little debt compared with what’s allowed. We have a high investment rating that pays dividends when we do borrow. And we have a near-perfect tax collection rate that is the envy of all.

And when you compare our property tax rate with all other North Carolina counties, we lead there as well. Moore possesses the eighth lowest property tax rate — 46.5 cents for every $100 of property value — of the 100 counties this fiscal year. Of the seven in front of us, six are small mountain counties.

But when you are a growing county like Moore, that kind of conservatism can work against you as well. Now we’re playing catch-up.

“Many of the needs go back a long time before I became county manager,” said Vest, referring to the public schools, a new courthouse and other issues. He took over the top county job in December 2012.

“A whole lot of discussions have taken place over the years. This budget brings that all into focus … This budget is great fiscal vision at least through the next revaluation.”

Keep Up or Catch Up

So what will we get with this tax hike? This year, it prioritizes public education — though the schools certainly won’t get everything they requested — public safety and human services. It adds 16 additional employees, including five new sheriff’s deputies and eight new detention center employees; funds a 2 percent raise beginning in August; and increases spending social services by almost $1 million.

The increased spending will also begin covering the debt for a few new elementary schools, including McDeeds Creek Elementary and the three elementaries for Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen that voters overwhelmingly approved a year ago.

And money is being put into a fund to build a new courthouse, a project ordered by the state judiciary a few years ago. An architect is finishing up plans now.

So, yes, this budget does a lot of things. It has to. It’s been a long time since Moore County’s government responded to the call for greater service. It has admirably gotten by for far too long on an undersized budget.

Hey, here’s an idea: Let’s learn to keep up instead of catch up.

(10) comments

Richard Wright

The Pilot has never seen a tax in lease that they do not support. BTW, tax per $100 valuation never measures the actual impact. The increase will be covered by those homeowners, many who have long since retired. A 10% tax increase is significant and may be more so when the increase in municipality taxes are faced in to the final number.

Kent Misegades

The Wonder Women predicted the increased cost for schools would be similar to a bottle of nail polish. I do not recall one mention of tax increases in their very slick bond campaign. Fact: the cost of the schools is 3 x what is spent on non-government schools. Other planned buildings will likely also be full of non-essential frills. Fact: property tax bills are increasing by whopping 20% or more in one year. Those who feel they are under-taxed can write a personal check to tax authorities.

Jim Tomashoff

Kent states: "Fact: the cost of the schools is 3 x what is spent on non-government schools." This is roughly the 2,374th time he has made this assertion (which is not the same thing as a fact). This is roughly the 2,374th time he has made this assertion without any real facts to back this claim up. He also states: "Fact: property tax bills are increasing by whopping 20% or more in one year." Almost certainly not true. But we'll see. If by any chance he is correct, I promise to be the 2,374th person to congratulate him.

Conrad Meyer

Not buying the hype and the spin from the Pilot and More (sic) County. All words, no numbers. What is truly overdue is a proper explanation of the proposed increase. Lay it out in numbers - the electorate is far smarter than you give them credit for. It might be needed, but I am thinking it is yet another government entity bellying up to the feed trough and eating until stuffed.

Jim Tomashoff

Conrad, the editorial states that the property tax rate has been unchanged for 10 years. It states that even with the increase Moore County will have the eighth lowest tax rate of all 100 North Carolina Counties. Further it states that all except two of the new hires will be police officers and detention employees, which as a conservative I would think you wholeheartedly support. However you state: "All words, no numbers." Now correct me if I'm wrong, but don't the quotes I cited constitute "numbers?" The editorial further states that the new courthouse was ordered by the State. Isn't that an "explanation?" Then you surmise, "...but I am thinking it is yet another government entity bellying up to the feed trough and eating until stuffed." I guess, but perhaps I'm wrong, that here you are referring to the massive(sic) 2% salary increase for County employees. You have, in the past, made a number of comments that seemed to me to be quite reasonable. But I caution you, again for what it's worth, that this comment risks being "Kent-like", e.g. insipid, inane, and factually challenged.

Conrad Meyer

Jim, I appreciate the feedback. Let me share some numbers/commentary that mean something. First, the tax rate hasn't changed for 10 years. Why the massive increase now? This is a tax rate - as property values increase, the taxes go up automatically. Presumably these increases cover needed increases in the county budget as costs rise. However, if the county wants "more" that would explain the rate increase. Justify the increase, don't just talk around it. I suspect there is far more detail available than the Pilot cares to publish - I think this would be helpful. We are already going to get a 12-18% increase in property tax to cover the school bonds. That debacle has been covered in previous letters. This should be independent of the current property tax rate, but still included in budget. In addition, the county decided it was a good time to reassess all the properties. My home value was increased by 10% after I won an appeal to reduce it. So far my property taxes are going up 25%. To add insult to this, we are now paying a permanent half percent increase in the sales tax. Household impact varies depending on spending. Now the county wants to increase the property tax rate by 10% on top of all of this. I am calling foul on this until properly explained. They are already getting a large increase due to the property reassessment. I'd suggest that an example be shown to explain to people what their property taxes were in the current year - maybe use a $200,000 home as an example. Then list all the things that are new, what they cost, and show what that same home will pay this coming year. Presumably the home is worth $220,000 now, but show the tax bill. Better yet, lay the two annual budgets side by side with an explanation to "walk" the old budget to the new budget. (added schools, new courthouse, even more people and their benefits, raises, ad infinitum). Lastly, please do not categorize me - we have never met and you do not know me. I am highly educated and can think for myself. My opinions are my opinions. If I happen to agree with you - fine. If I happen to agree with someone you obviously troll, that is the way I see it and you are out of line with the name calling.

Jim Tomashoff

Conrad, I didn't call you any names, I characterized, I think accurately, Kent's prolific comments on this and, for that matter, nearly everything. He is an arrogant know-it-all with the mind-set of a totalitarian who thinks so little of everyone else that he sees no need to do what you just did in your well thought out response to me, introduce and develop an argument replete with suggestions. I thought your initial comment on this editorial was, quite frankly, beneath you.

Barbara Misiaszek

You can google the Moore County budget and find both this year's proposed budget and last year's budget. All the numbers' are there for comparison. What you might find surprising is that although there is certainly a significant increase in school spending, the lion's share goes to funding for the new schools and renovations to an exiting school. Added spending for what actually occurs within those new and renovated walls is relatively modest,unfortunately. I say unfortunately because it is what happens within the walls that is much more important to a sound educational outcome than are the walls within which those activities take place. John Misiaszek

Kent Misegades

Well put. Those supporting massive government spending and the tax increases these create have few answers and typically resort to tired old cliches and slander. yawn.

Jim Tomashoff

And Kent always asserts "facts not in evidence" such as his numerous statements that he can build schools for 2/3 less than the County spends. Double yawn.

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