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Commissioners turn down tax cut

Commissioner Grady Hawkins (right) is pushing a 1.36-cent tax cut, which board chairman Charlie Messer (left) opposes. Commissioner Grady Hawkins (right) is pushing a 1.36-cent tax cut, which board chairman Charlie Messer (left) opposes.

Henderson County commissioners voted 3-2 to keep the current tax rate. Click here for live updates from the MossBlog: Live coverage!

Commissioners last week added $1 million to a $109,873,300 budget County Manager Steve Wyatt presented on May 15 but left pending unmet requests of an extra $3 million. The board is not expected to take up all of those and it may choose to fund only a fraction of the requests Wyatt received and denied. Commissioners could adopt a budget once the public hearing is complete as required by law. It has one more meeting, on June 19, before the new fiscal year begins.
Among the new spending the commissioners authorized was $450,000 for Tuxedo Community Park, $300,000 for a "peak-load" ambulance crew and ambulance, $20,000 each for Flat Rock Playhouse's YouTheatre and the Hendersonville Little Theater, $10,000 for the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra and several other nonprofits. The EMS increase would be offset by higher ambulance fees, county finance officials said.
Commissioner Grady Hawkins wasted no time pushing the tax cut, saying within minutes of his swearing-in in December that the county should roll back the rate to 50 cents per $100 valuation to help homeowners and especially small businesses, who pay the tax on real property and furnishings and equipment. The tax cut would mean a $34 tax break for the owner of a home valued at $250,000.
Board chairman Charlie Messer attempted to set the proposed tax cut aside, arguing that the $1.6 million it would cost would be better spent on unmet requests from county departments, the schools and nonprofit agencies. Hawkins insisted the rollback was still realistic despite the board's decision during the budget workshop that raised overall spending. The county has a fund balance of $39.5 million (not counting $1.365 million set aside for seven years worth of incentives for the Sierra Nevada brewery). Wyatt's budget spent $5 million of the fund balance; commissioners appropriated about $1 million more.
"I think even where you are, you're in the $700,000 to 800,000 above the county manager's budget. That to me is very doable to roll the county rate to 50 cents," Hawkins said. "It's very doable if the board wants to give everybody in the county a tax break this year. We don't need to be everybody's bank and hold that much money. We've got a lot of other money in the budget to help small businesses. I think at this point it's very doable."
Commissioners Michael Edney, Larry Young and Tommy Thompson did not commit either way but said it would be unwise to set a 2013-14 tax rate before commissioners hear from agency heads, nonprofit leaders and citizens during the public hearing Monday. The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse.
Messer argued that the requests already on the table and a desire by the sheriff's department, the schools and other departments to restore positions lost in budget cutting in 2010-11 and 2011-12 fiscal years. And he has urged caution in how much fund balance the county spends because much is unknown about how a state budget will affect counties.
"If we give the county staff the current rate we basically have $1.6 million left," Messer said last Tuesday. "We've got the schools and the college (requesting money for capital projects) ....
"The sheriff's department is trying to get back to where it was 2½ years ago. We can wait to set the rate but I think there's some needs for the schools, with capital projects. Even if I had to vote on this year's budget I'd vote on leaving it at 51.36 (cents) and try to meet as many of these needs. That's $1.6 million that would go back to the residents of Henderson County."
Messer said in an interview he expected Thompson to cast the swing vote on the tax cut. Hawkins and Young are on the record in favor of the cut and Edney is believed to be in favor of keeping the current rate.
"I don't where Tommy is on it," Messer said.
Wyatt received $4 million worth of requests he did not recommend. Some of those the commissioners have added in but most are still pending. Among the department, schools and nonprofit requests not included in his recommended budget were:

  • $1.06 million from Sheriff Charlie McDonald, including four deputies for the burglary and theft crackdown squad, two school resource officers, two dispatchers, a crime analyst, building, grounds and security improvements and two squad cars.
  • $702,000 from the Department of Social Services, including an income maintenance works, two social workers, daycare money and heating assistance money.
  • $281,000 from the Rescue Squad, including $100,000 in operating money (the squad requested $200,000; Wyatt recommended $100,000) and $181,000 for a four-wheel drive ambulance.
  • $172,000 for the public library, including two part-time workers and one fulltime librarian and six iPads for kiosks.
  • $300,000 for the Parks and Recreation — $150,000 for a playground at Dana Community Park and $150,000 for resurfacing Jackson Park tennis courts.

The budget contains $471,000 worth of incentive payments for companies that have located in the county or invested in job-creating expansions, including C.L. Henderson Produce, Contintental Teves, Legacy Paddlesports, Elkamet, Sierra Nevada, Vocational Solutions and Wilsonart.