County finishes budget, raises tax rate 1.87 cents

Jun. 24, 2014 @ 10:26 AM

Completing their work on the county’s fiscal 2014-15 budget, County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Monday to approve a spending plan that calls for an increase in the property tax rate of 1.87 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The change pegs Durham’s countywide levy at 79.31 cents per $100, County Manager Wendell Davis said, noting that it is still “significantly lower” than the increase he requested late last month.

For the owner of a $150,000 house, the increase means this year’s upcoming tax bill will cost $28.05 more than 2013’s.

Commissioners noted that the 2.4 percent increase is paying among other things for expanded ambulance staffing, to improve response times to 911 calls.

“We work very hard to keep our citizens first and foremost,” commissioners Chairman Michael Page said, adding that the services involved “are directly affecting the lives of people in our community.”

The budget is also increasing tax surcharges on property owners in four of the five rural fire districts whose tax rate Durham officials control. That is paying for staffing increases, to help with the initial response to fire calls.

The hope there is that an improvement in service will, “for many of our citizens,” translate into lower premiums for fire insurance, Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.

Northern Durham County residents served by the Bahama Volunteer Fire Department will pay an additional 3.87 cents per $100 of assessed value. Those in the Redwood fire district will pay 2.61 cents more per $100.

The surcharges are going up 0.65 cents and 0.5 in the Lebanon and Bethesda fire districts, respectively. The Parkwood fire district is getting a cut to its surcharge of 0.15 cents per $100.

Rural households also face a $14 increase in their solid-waste service availability fee, which will pay for an expansion of roll-out recycling service county officials and a contractor experimented with in fiscal 2013-14.

Neither the fire-district tax changes nor the increase in the solid-waste availability fee affect city residents, who receive those services from Durham’s city government.

Monday’s commissioners vote followed by a week the City Council’s decision to raise the in-town tax rate by 2.37 cents per $100.

For city residents, the two votes mean an overall increase of 4.24 cents per $100 of assessed value. That’s 3.2 percent more than last year’s overall rate and will cost the owner of a $150,000 house an additional $63.60.

County tax-value estimates were last reappraised heading into fiscal 2008-09. Since then, the combined city/county property tax burden has gone up by about 1.7 percent a year.

Over that time, inflation has clocked in at a bit more than 1.4 percent a year. State officials estimate the county’s population has also grown by about 2.0 percent a year.

The dissenting vote Monday night came from Commissioner Fred Foster, who noted that he’d also voted against the county’s fiscal 2013-14 budget.

He said commissioners should have considered using surplus reserve funds to boost anti-poverty initiatives.

Foster also noted that county officials allowed city Mayor Bill Bell, whose government deals in “hard services,” to announce a major anti-poverty initiative when the issue is part and parcel of their portfolio as custodians of social services.