News Column

Union County considers 13% property tax hike for schools

May 23, 2014

By Adam Bell, The Charlotte Observer



May 23--Union County commissioners are considering raising taxes by more than 13 percent to deal with school district funding requests.

But it's too soon to tell whether that plan will pass, or if the increase is enough to satisfy the school board.

Last year, when the school board was unhappy with its county funding allocation, it sued the county and won a $91 million verdict, which remains under appeal.

The current real estate and personal property tax rate is 66 cents per $100 of valuation. At a meeting Thursday night, commissioners told County Manager Cindy Coto to prepare a budget with a rate of 74.69 cents, with the increases covering school district capital funds and a small hike in operating funds for the district.

Under the new plan, a person with a $200,000 home would see a property tax bill jump from $1,320 to nearly $1,494, an increase of $174.

Commissioners said they had a consensus to raise taxes for the first time since 2007. Commissioners Chairman Frank Aikmus said he hopes the capital funding is enough to keep the school board from suing again.

"My hope is they appreciate that this conservative board did something that goes against every ounce of our being," Aikmus said. "But I do believe it is the right thing to do to pay for what is needed for school capital funding."

School board Chairman Richard Yercheck said he did not think the school board would sue again, but added, "I'm one of nine (votes)."

In early May, the school board approved a budget with $97.7 million in capital funding and $89.9 million in general operating funds. The capital request included the bulk of the jury award, angering commissioners who said that if they approved the entire school board request, it would sock taxpayers with a 66 percent tax hike.

On Thursday, commissioners settled on $19.5 million for capital needs and $85.3 million for general operating funds.

Yercheck said he needs to talk to school district staff about possible capital programs to cut before determining if the amount the commissioners are considering would be enough for capital expenses.

For the first time, commissioners split the budget into two parts when coming up with the county tax rate: one part is for school funding, and the rest covers all other county functions, such as libraries, the sheriff's office and human services.

The county portion of the budget does not require a tax increase.

School board members objected to having the district being singled out in the tax rate planning.

Up next is another joint meeting between the school board and commissioners on Tuesday, followed by a June 2 public hearing on the school district tax rate. Final budget adoption is set for June 16.

Meanwhile, legal bills and related expenses keep mounting from the lawsuit and appeal -- more than $1.7 million combined between the district and the county.

The school board wanted the county to cover $300,000 for legal expenses in the new fiscal year, but commissioners objected Thursday to paying those costs.

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(c)2014 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)


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