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County eyes 5-cent tax levy for ed buildings

A revenue neutral tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year had a shelf life of just 10 days before Henderson County commissioners took a closer look at education facility needs.

They now appear poised to add 5 cents to the revenue neutral rate, boosting the FY2020 rate to just under its current level.
Major renovations and repairs for public schools and Blue Ridge Community College have a projected cost of $37 million over the next four years — the period the county strives to plan for in a revaluation year. The 2019 real property revaluation gives the county the opportunity to forecast costs until the next revaluation, in 2023. Major capital projects — and the debt payments required when the county chooses to finance construction through borrowing — are a big driver of the forecast.
County Manager Steve Wyatt rolled out a $146.3 million budget on May 6 with a rate of 51.1 cents — the revenue neutral rate. Wyatt’s recommended budget left unfunded $24.9 million in renovation and major repair work in the county school system and $12.4 million at BRCC.
Last week, Wyatt presented a new proposal to fund those needs over four years by adding 5 cents to the tax rate, boosting the levy to 56.1 cents.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “It requires a tax increase to bite off those kind of projects.”
The direction from Chairman Grady Hawkins, Wyatt noted, was to “try to keep the tax rate underneath where it is now.”
Wyatt’s plan for education building improvements does that, if barely. The 56.1 cents rate is just four-tenths of a cent below the current rate of 56.5 cents. Given higher taxable values after the reassessment, a level tax rate level will mean a tax increase for many homeowners and businesses.
Commissioners took no action on the proposed plan to devote 5 cents to the education building fund but they’ll have that option on the table when they hold a public hearing and consider the spending plan one last time on June 3.
The school system levy would raise $4.6 million a year while the BRCC levy would raise $3.1 million. Counting a $1.56 million debt service appropriation already in the budget, the amount earmarked for repairs and renovation totals $6.2 million a year. Under the new overall taxable valuation, 1 cent on the property tax raises $1.56 million.