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County manager reveals much anticipated property tax rate

Henderson County Manager John Mitchell cut to the chase when he presented his recommended 2023-24 budget Monday night to the Board of Commissioners.

The most anticipated number for many taxpayers, in light of the quadrennial reappraisal that raised real property values by an average of 48 percent countywide, was the property tax rate. Mitchell recommended a rate of 43.1 cents per $100 valuation, a decrease of 23 percent from the current rate of 56.1 cents. The proposed tax rate is revenue neutral, Mitchell said, meaning that it would raise the same amount of revenue as the current budget plus inflation.
The rate would also give Henderson County the lowest rate among North Carolina counties with more than 100,000 people, though some of those are also in a revaluation year and could set tax rates lower than Henderson County’s. The budget of $191 million is $10.8 million more than the adopted current budget but $3.2 million below the current fiscal year's revised budget, which reflects grants from the state and federal government received after the county adopted the budget in June 2022. And it requires a transfer of $18.7 million from the county's fund balance — the account the county uses to park surplus revenue from previous years.

"We’ve looked at the records and I believe a 23 percent reduction is the largest decrease of the property tax rate in the county’s history," Mitchell said.

Individual taxpayers may see a tax increase even if commissioners adopt the revenue neutral tax rate, an explainer by the UNC School of Government warns. "If a taxpayer’s real property appreciated in value more than did the local government’s real property" tax base overall, "then that taxpayer’s tax bill will increase if the RNTR (revenue neutral tas rate) is adopted," the article said.

Spending breakdown in Mitchell's recommended budget shows 29 percent going to education — K-12 public schools and Blue Ridge Community College — 25 percent to public safety and 20 percent to human services.

Mitchell also recommends borrowing up to $199 million for the expansion and renovation of the Grove Street Courthouse and jail, with debt service starting in FY 2025.

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta cautioned that the board has not committed to the courthouse-jail construction project; it has hired a construction management team to nail down a solid cost projection.

"We don't yet have that number," he said. "That project may not happen, or at least in full, as we talk about it. I want to make sure everybody understands, once this is made public, there's a lot of room for reduction."

Commissioners will discuss the recommended budget in detail in a workshop on May 17 and hold a public hearing on it at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 5.

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NOTE: An earlier version of this story misreported the percent decrease in the property tax rate as 32 percent. It's 23 percent.