Editorial: Why split tax hike?

Apr. 16, 2013 @ 06:41 PM

Maybe we’re just boiling slowly.

That seems to be the approach Durham County Commissioners and County Manager Mike Ruffin are now taking on the property tax issue as we go into budget season, based on reporting by The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg.

Originally, Ruffin talked about a five-cent increase to the property tax rate for fiscal 2013-14. He wanted to raise money to cover the county’s growing debt payments.

But after meeting privately with the five commissioners, Ruffin changed course.

“Clearly, they felt like that was too much at one time,” he said. “They wanted to split it up. They really thought it was better.”

So, the new plan: Three cents this year; two more next year.

This makes us wonder if county leaders think we’re all like the mythical frog in the pot of water that just won’t mind much if the water gradually heats to a boil around us.

Three cents this year; two more next year.

We’ll hardly notice, right?

The current tax rate of 74.44 cents on every $100 of assessed value means that a family that owns a $150,000 house must pay the county about $1,116.60 in taxes. The high point for the tax rate in the past decade came in 2007-8, when it was at 83.4 cents per $100 of assessed value, meaning a tax bill of $1,251 on that $150,000 house.

If we take the full nickel hit that Ruffin first proposed, to 79.44 cents on every $100 of assessed value, taxes would go up a little less than $80 for the year. It’s not an inconsequential amount, but we’d still be shy of the peak tax rate.

Using the split formula, the tax bill on the $150,000 house would climb $45 this year and $35 next year.

Three cents this year; two more next year.

We’ll hardly notice.

And what about the year after that?

Ruffin had some concerns that, by divvying up the hike, the county might have to add a third debt-related increase sometime in the next five years. That won’t be necessary, he said, although officials are eyeing fiscal 2017-18 as they ponder policy for handling debt payments for projects such as the new courthouse downtown.

It may be more politically palatable to raise the rate in stages, but we think that if a tough decision must be made to help reduce the county’s debts, then we’d prefer to start knocking out those liabilities sooner rather than later.

So why not five cents this year?


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