Sticker shock within Henderson tax hike of 14.2 percent

May. 20, 2013 @ 08:08 PM

Henderson families can expect to pay $195 more in city tax and fee bills next year according to a draft budget that includes a 14.2 percent hike to the real estate tax.

City Manager Ray Griffin presented on Monday his funding requests for the 2013-2014 budget year, the focus of which is an 8.3-cent increase to the 58.5-cent real estate tax rate.

Also hiked are water bills, up 5 percent, sewer bills, up 2.5 percent, and the sanitation fee, up 50 cents.

A family living in a $200,000 assessed home and consuming an average amount of water would see an increase of $195 to their yearly spending on city government, according to estimates that Griffin provided to members of council.

Council members said they would work together to drive the real estate tax hike downward, but most said they thought some increase in the tax appeared inevitable.

“I hope we don’t have to,” Councilman Michael Rainey said. “It’s inevitable that it will go up some, I believe, because something has got to give. We can’t keep cutting and cutting on programs.”

Councilman Michael Inscoe said he didn’t know what the result would be from the full council’s handling of the $35,751,900 city budget presented in draft form on Monday.

“I am not in favor of an 8-cent tax increase,” Inscoe said. “Right now, I am looking at ways I can reduce that, and I have already identified a few of those areas tonight.”

Inscoe, not sharing yet the specifics of what he found, said he would be very involved with further budget discussions that begin Thursday with a first installment of at least four council work sessions exclusively on hammering out a final budget for the city.

Councilwoman Sara Coffey said she knew she could not favor the proposed rate hike in the real estate tax, but she stopped short of a commitment to eliminating the tax hike completely.

Councilwoman Brenda Peace-Jenkins said she thought it would be best to bring down the tax rate proposal at least some.

None of the council members asked on Monday said they would push to eliminate the tax hike.

Griffin presented a bleak budget reality of city departments cut to minimal levels that already do not fund all of the city’s priorities.

“We have to live within our means, unlike our friends in Washington, D.C.,” Griffin said. “There are things at work that are completely beyond our control. Hopefully this will help you explain to your constituents when they call.”

Griffin said a top priority is to not spend general fund savings, now standing at about $2 million.

He said a problem exists in the collection of real estate taxes because Maria Parham Medical Center has not paid, making for a gap in expected revenues of several hundred thousand dollars. There is a dispute between the hospital and state authorities on their real estate assessment, Griffin said.

Griffin also said that budget news from Raleigh, emanating from the state senate, will have an impact on local budgeting that is not known yet.

“These are watershed type changes,” Griffin said. “It further complicates an already difficult budget process.”

Thursday’s budget work session is designated for discussion of regional water funds, water department and sewer department funds, related capital reserves and capital improvement program funds.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.