Residents sounded off Tuesday during the first two of three scheduled public hearings on Forsyth County’s proposed tax hike that could be approved later this month.
What’s proposed is a 0.668 increase of the county’s maintenance and operations rate, which could bring it to 4.502. A 0.076 millage rate hike for the fire fund also is planned, bringing the total to 1.841.
If approved, the owner of a house assessed at $200,000 could see a tax increase of about $53 per year, according to Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas.
Thomas said the tax increase could generate about $5.7 million to help cover the projected $7.6 million shortfall in the preliminary 2010 budget.
Residents at Tuesday’s public hearings urged commissioners to come up with some other ideas.
“In case some folks haven’t noticed, there is a recession going on,” Ted Brooke said in the morning session. “This is no time to be raising taxes. We need to reduce spending. I haven’t heard a word about that.”
Harrison Tallant said he opposed “any tax increase whatsoever.”
“I think we should be having a public hearing on reducing the millage rate instead of raising it,” Tallant said.
Glenn Heagerty said he agreed with Commissioner Jim Harrell, who in past meetings has suggested the commission dip into general fund reserves to balance the budget.
“I’d like to join Mr. Harrell in his minority of one in calling for reserves to be used,” said Heagerty, adding that the county could do with less government services to offset expenditures.
“I don’t like the idea of government services. The less, the better,” Heagerty said.
A reduction of government services may still be needed, in addition to the tax hike, to make up the projected deficit in the preliminary 2010 budget.
Commissioners continue to look at options including countywide furloughs, unpaid holidays, layoffs and employee health care cuts.
At the second millage rate hearing of the day, which was in the afternoon, residents received a tax lesson from Commissioner Charles Laughinghouse.
“Basically, for those of you who are homeowners in this county, you realize that the taxable assessment on your home is set the day that you buy the house,” said Laughing-house, who chairs the commission.
“The price you pay for it, you come in and file your homestead exemption, and that means that your property was assessed at $100,000 whenever you bought it. It could be assessed at $500,000 right now, but your tax value, the value at which it is taxed for county [maintenance and operations], still is the same value it was the day you bought it. That is not increased.
“Your county M and O taxes have not increased because your assessed value has increased because your tax assessment for county M and O is fixed. It has been for several years.”
Thomas said the county hasn’t increased the millage rate for at least three years.
“We have actually cut back from $104 million from the general fund down to about $90 and a half million that’s proposed for 2010. So we’ve cut about $13 million off our expenditures that we had in 2008 that were budgeted.”
Thomas said the county would not close the entire budget gap with a property tax increase, but rather with “a variety of other methods, one of them which is probably cutting off [the budget] at $90.5 million.”
“That budget, obviously, won’t be decided until December, but we have cut back,” he said. “We have continued to cut back and will continue to look at ways to cut.”
Laughinghouse said he hears from people who suggest reducing services, but “somebody’s got to tell us what services.”
“We had people telling us this morning reduce services and then somebody comes up and says, ‘Oh, but by the way, I want you to fix the road in front of my house,’” he said.
“I think that if people will go and look, you will discover that we have tried to cut expenditures while maintaining the level of services that we’ve had in the past. In the future, that probably is not going to be able to be maintained.”
The board voted 3-2 June 30 to increase the millage rate. Commiss-ioners Harrell and Brian Tam opposed it.
A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.
Another millage rate public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 30 at the county administration building. The rates could then be adopted.
Staff writer Julie Arrington co-write this story.