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Tax hike appears imminent
Increase would soften shortfall
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Forsyth County News
The owner of a house assessed at $200,000 could see a tax hike of about $53 per year if Forsyth County commissioners approve a proposed millage rate increase later this month.

Public hearings are scheduled throughout July to further discuss the hike in the county’s maintenance and operations levy, as well as an increase in the fire fund millage rate.

The board voted 3-2 Tuesday to raise the maintenance and operations rate by .668, which would bring it to 4.502. Commissioners Jim Harrell and Brian Tam opposed the measure.

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.

Commissioners also voted 4-1 to raise the fire fund millage rate by .076, totaling 1.841. Commissioner Jim Boff opposed the increase, which is aimed at replacing older fire department equipment and vehicles.

The lift in maintenance and operations taxes could generate about $5.7 million, according to Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas. That money would help the county cover the projected $7.2 million shortfall in its preliminary 2010 budget.

The remaining deficit could be made up through other cuts prior to final adoption of the 2010 budget, which is set for December.

Options include countywide furloughs, unpaid holidays, layoffs and employee health care cuts.

Commissioner Jim Harrell has continued to oppose a tax increase, encouraging his colleagues to instead use the county’s general fund to balance the budget.

“I’m a minority of one on this,” Harrell said. “I don’t have a problem, in a bad year, of using reserves. For me that’s exactly what they’re there for. It’s for bad times, and yeah, we’re going through some bad times.”

Commissioner Patrick Bell had misgivings about that.

“I have concerns with using any general fund reserves this year,” Bell said. “I believe it’s going to be equally or more difficult going forward.”

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said he was concerned with the continued decline in sales tax revenues, including the special purpose and local option levies.

Thomas said the most recent collections were each down about 18 percent from last year’s numbers, pointing to a steady downward pattern in 2009.

He said if the trend continues, overall 2009 sales tax collections could fall about $1.7 million short, which could push the projected $7.2 deficit higher.

Commissioners could revisit the preliminary 2010 budget at three scheduled public hearings on the millage rate increase scheduled for 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. July 14 and 6:30 p.m. July 30. The rates could be adopted July 30.

E-mail Frank Reddy at