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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: County demands cities raise taxes

The proposal by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to force Flat Rock to pay for the cost of law enforcement would be folly even if the discussion of the idea had not been based on a $620,000 error.

Chairman Tommy Thompson brought up the idea during the Board of Commissioners annual budget workshop on Jan. 21. He pointed to calculations showing that Flat Rock, Mills River and Fletcher had shifted $24 million in sales tax from the county to the cities' treasuries over the past 10 years. Fletcher had received $11.2 million, Flat Rock $4.5 million and Mills River $8.2 million. Of those, only Flat Rock pays nothing for law enforcement.
Thompson said he agreed with Sheriff Charlie McDonald that the department has a legal obligation to enforce the law within the county boundaries.
"But by the same token Fletcher has its own police department, Laurel Park has its own police department," he said. "Mills River contracts for someone to be there, and Flat Rock — those wonderful folks are enjoying the benefits of us all."
"They've got taxing authority," Commissioner Grady Hawkins added. "They take their portion of the sales tax. I'd like to see them step up to the responsibilities and help some of the law enforcement."
Then-Chairman Charlie Messer brought it up at a meeting of local government council a year and a half ago. Michael Edney, who is from the Flat Rock district, and Bill Lapsley, who elected in November, said nothing.
The county's calculation initially showed that the cost of answering sheriff's calls was $800,000 in Flat Rock and $180,000 in Mills River. The numbers were reversed, the county staff said the next day. The numbers raise another question. If the cost of answering calls for service in the town of Mills River is $800,000, then shouldn't Mills River be paying the sheriff's department that amount rather than the amount it now pays — $71,131 a year — for a contracted deputy. That's a 9-cent property tax increase in Mills River residents. To pay their share — if three county commissioners get their way — Flat Rock homeowners would see their property tax rate go up by 2½ cents.
"Our citizens don't want us to enter into a contract with the sheriff's department," Mayor Bob Staton said. "The attitude of our citizens in that regard as it relates to animal control is they don't see any reason why we should pay $100,000 to the sheriff to answer calls about somebody's barking dog."
So what? The attitude of a majority of the Board of Commissioners is that the Flat Rock council should force its taxpayers to pay for law enforcement coverage whether they want to or not. So much for home rule. We can't help but notice, by the way, that Flat Rock has not posted a sign at its new $2 million park saying "Village residents only."
The self-styled fiscal conservatives seem to be opposed to a property tax increase only when it contains their fingerprints. They're happy to force city homeowners to pay more.