Friday, June 20, 2008

Yet another tax increase coming to Selma

I am going to make this simple. All Selma residents need to remember that if this next tax increase passes, Charles Hester, Jackie Lacy, and Debbie Johnson, 3/5 of the Selma Town Council, have been the ones who have been in office and brought us a nine cents per thousand valuation property tax increase. Their terms of office do not expire until a year from November or so. At least that is the next municipal election. We got a five cent increase two years ago. We are getting another four cent increase this year.

We found out that there are some things we can do without in this town. We found that we can exist sufficiently without some staffing positions. We found that we can cut budgets with no significant change in how the town does business.

I do not mind working to restore some pay increases and retirement benefits for town employees. However, the proposed 5% cost of living increase is far above the average for business, let alone government. When facing a budget shortfall at home, I simply cut spending. I had this discussion with a retiree just yesterday. He argued that we needed the increased taxes, yet at the same time said that in his fixed income situation that he has to cut his spending when the price of things go up. Well, duh! It is no different for government. Rather than reach into my pocket and increase my mortgage cost through higher escrow payments to cover increased taxation, the town simply needs to cut its proposed budget.

Every year, the Johnston County Council on Aging asks for town money. They do a good work, and I personally like Donna Creech. However, during a budget shortfall, I find it inappropriate to ask taxpayers for more money and then give it away. Only about 40% of the residents in this town are taxpayers, since about 60% of the residents are renters. Sure, there are landlords that pay property taxes, but the 60% have no real stake in our tax rate since it is built into their rent fees.

I have read the budget ordinance. It is still not a complete budget. I want to see MORE than a two page summary. If the town hall staff can print out a full line item budget, they can print it into a pdf file and make it available online as well.

Several months ago, Stan Farmer was boasting about how far ahead we were as a town in our revenues versus expenditures. Now we are facing a revenue versus expenditure shortfall? How do we go from a 3/4 of a million dollar surplus to needing another tax increase?

I could not care less what other town are paying in Johnston County. That argument is being used, i.e., that Selma has a lower tax rate than most towns in the county. What pisses me off is that NC is one of the higher taxed states around. We pay property tax on real estate, property tax on automobiles, vehicle registration, sales tax, state income tax, county property tax, federal income tax, excise taxes and fees, federal income tax, and the list goes on. I was told how much cheaper it was to live in North Carolina compared to New England when I was looking to possibly relocate here 20 years ago this summer. What a lie. And it is only getting worse.

Here is The Selma News article.
Property tax increase of 4 cents likely for Selma
By Rick Stewart, Publisher

Working feverishly right up to Tuesday night’s public hearing on the town of Selma’s proposed 2008-09 budget, town officials recommended a four cents tax increase and a $2 per month garbage collection fee hike.

It also appears likely that electrical rates will go up during the next fiscal year, said Town Manager C. L. Gobble, but he said until the town is given the new rate it cannot be passed along to the town’s electric customers.

Following a public hearing Tuesday night at which only Donna Creech, executive director of the Johnston County Council on Aging spoke, Town Council members voted to delay adopting the budget until next Thursday at 4 p.m.

Because the actual numbers in the budget were not publicly known until Tuesday night, Council decided to delay adoption to give Selma residents a chance to talk with Council members about the tax increase or any other items in the budget.
The budget adds a full-time planner to the town’s staff and adds the position of deputy town clerk to the budget. It also adds two new trucks in the electrical department and two new police cars.

Following up on the recommendation of the town’s strategic planning committee, the budget contains $8,000 funding to revitalize the town’s appearance committee.
Council members, meeting one-on-one Monday with Gobble, stressed to him, said Gobble, that they wanted to bring pay ranges back up to a higher level after two years of small or no pay increases.

With that in mind, Gobble presented a budget with a five percent across the board cost of living increase for all employees and a three percent town contribution to employees’ retirement program.

“It is imperative that the Town keep its pay plan up to day and stay competitive in the market place,” Gobble said in his budget message to Council.

The property tax rate will increase from 49 cents per $100 valuation to 53 cents per $100 valuation. The new fees and rates will go into effect on July 1 if Council approves the budget next Thursday.

A $2 increase in garbage collection I can comprehend, since the cost of fuel is increasing and I am sure that our contracted garbage collection company is passing some cost onto the customer, meaning the Town of Selma. Still, $18 a month for trash collection does almost seem high. I will compare with private contracted services that my friends in the country use for a point of reference.

One pitfall of being a town utility customer is that Electricities is a wholesale customer, not a retail customer of Progress Energy. Therefore, Progress Energy does not need a Public Utilities Commission (or whatever NC calls their regulatory agency) approval for a rate hike. That rate hike hits us whenever Progress Energy decides to make it happen, whereas direct retail customer rate hikes require agency approval. Thus, we get hit when the town gets hit and we already pay higher rates by the time the general public gets an increase.

We are getting hosed with a property tax increase, then will be paying a trash collection fee increase, and then get hit with a utility rate hike. There are many things about Selma that make me want to relocate. The same with North Carolina, for that matter.

Here is the blurb from WTSB's web site.
Selma Town Council Considering Raising Property Taxes
Selma residents could be paying higher property taxes. The town council is considering raising taxes 4 cents to balance their 2008-09 fiscal year budget. Residents could also pay higher electrical rates and garbage collection fees. The council could approve the budget when they meet again on June 26. The spending plan does include a 5 percent cost of living increase for employees. If the tax hike is approved, the property tax rate would go from 49 to 53 cents per $100 valuation.

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