We hate to say, “We told you so,” but …
In June 2016, Commissioners Ben Moss and Don Bryant voted against dropping the county property tax rate from 81 cents per $100 of valuation to 79 cents.
According to Moss, his decision was based on upcoming large-scale projects that will be pretty pricey, including the construction of a new jail and renovations to the old Richmond County Courthouse — things that still need to be done.
After the vote, Moss said, “I just don’t want to come back in a year or two years and hit the taxpayers for another (increase).”
At that time, we sided with, and applauded, Moss and Bryant, saying in this space: “By lowering the tax rate, therefore decreasing the amount of money flowing into the county’s coffers, it just means the commissioners will have to sign off on borrowing even more money — putting the county deeper in debt, which would, in turn, eventually lead to the tax rate being raised again.”
Flash forward to June 5 two years later: Commissioners voted on a budget — that called for a four-cent increase, making the tax rate even higher than it was before it was lowered.
Moss again voted against it, this time joined by Commissioner Herb Long.
“… I warned everyone when we lowered the tax rate two cents on the hundred that we would be in this position and I was hoping that I would be wrong,” Moss said Tuesday night, “but we’re exactly where I said we would be.”
“Four cents is not a lot to some but it’s a lot to others,” Long said. “I’m not so sure that there’s not something out there that we could have dug deeper and found and maybe kept it to a one- or two- or three-cent tax hike.”
This is the first increase in more than a decade and the same rate as 17 years ago.
Compared to other rural counties with populations between 44,000 and 48,000 (using the current fiscal year’s data), Richmond has the second-highest tax rate. Beaufort, Stokes and McDowell all have rates less than 67 cents per $100. Vance is the only comparable county with a higher rate at 89 cents.
We believe taxes should be kept as low as possible and that lowering them is always preferable. However, we think commissioners should have been looking farther ahead.
Instead of striving for political points in an election year, commissioners should have heeded Moss’ caution that the time wasn’t just right.
Both the county and city of Rockingham held rates steady for multiple consecutive years with no increases.
With rising costs and unfunded mandates, we wonder how long it will be before the county is in good enough financial shape to even entertain the idea of lowering the rates again.
When that time comes, we hope it will be the right decision.