York County Council considers property tax increase

adouglas@heraldonline.comMay 30, 2013 

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Property owners in unincorporated parts of York County could soon pay 1.5 percent more on their tax bills if the County Council approves a budget proposal discussed Wednesday night.

For residents in $100,000 homes, the property tax increase would add $6 to their bill.

For commercial business owners with $500,000 in property, the increase would add $45 to their bill.

Tax on a $20,000 car would increase by $1.80.

One reason for the increase: York County has a spending problem, said Councilman Michael Johnson, who represents Fort Mill and Tega Cay.

“My business can’t run a deficit. My house can’t run a deficit. This county can’t run a deficit,” Johnson said.

The 1.5 percent increase on York County’s millage rate is needed to make sure the county can pay its debt service, said Council Chairman Britt Blackwell.

“You got to face your mortgage,” he said.

No vote was taken at Wednesday’s public hearing, but Blackwell gathered opinion from each councilman on spending proposals and the possibility of a tax increase.

The majority of the council said they’d support a tax increase to make sure the county’s debts are paid but would not support raising taxes to meet operational costs.

The council will need to cut at least $1 million from its budget to avoid raising taxes by more than 1.5 percent.

Councilman Bruce Henderson said he thinks government spending needs to be “thinner” and doesn’t like the idea of raising taxes at all this year.

The county’s reserve fund “should save the day one more time,” he said.

Based on county staff proposals, the county would need to use more than $10 million from the $45.5 million reserve fund to avoid raising taxes and keep spending levels the same.

But using reserve funds is not enough and would only be a short-term solution, Henderson said.

“These cuts ... it’s absolute,” he said. “It’s got to happen.”

Some costs that the council is considering cutting are:

• $308,335 spent on resurfacing some roads and calcium chloride which is sprayed on dirt roads to reduce dust;

• About $620,000 that could be used for performance-based raises for county employees; and

• $366,230 spent on replacing aging equipment or vehicles.

The council needs to make deeper cuts than just what’s needed to avoid a tax increase, Blackwell said.

He’s willing to forego spending $729,000 on new software for the tax assessor’s office, he said, even though it would streamline operations and make the property assessment process fairer.

Councilman Joe Cox clung tightly to the $200,000 allocated to calcium chloride because it’s a matter of health for many residents in his district, he said.

Cox represents the York and Sharon areas in western York County. His district is 46 percent of the county’s land and has the majority of the county’s rural dirt roads, he said.

York County’s spending issue stems from high recurring costs such as staff pay and benefits, Cox said.

During an earlier term on council, Cox voted to lay off 21 people, he said, and staffing cuts may be needed again.

“It’s tough,” he said.

About $96 million of spending is included in next year’s budget proposal, including starting to replace the roof at the Moss Justice Detention Center in York for $1.7 million and adding staff positions that will cost a total of about $786,000.

Johnson said he won’t support adding new jobs because the county is spending $96 million but bringing in $86 million.

York County might not be looking at such a dire budget situation if the council hadn’t decided to cut the tax millage rate by 3.3 percent two years ago, said Councilman Chad Williams.

He would be OK with raising property taxes by about 2 percent to ensure debts are paid and no essential county services are cut, he said.

The council must pass a budget by June 30.

The county plans to hold a final vote on the budget on June 17 unless council members request that staff members drastically revise their spending proposal.

If changes are made, another public hearing will be announced and held before the final vote.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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