Franklin County is returning to the old days of allowing increasing property values to result in unnecessary high tax collections. What will this mean to your own household finances and why are elected officials deliberately allowing this to happen to us all, again?
After attending the budget workshops for the upcoming fiscal year, I came to realize county leaders are not scrutinizing spending and costs as they was forced to do when we were in crisis mode after the last real estate collapse. With over 1,000 property tax certificates sold on the courthouse steps this year, (citizens that could not afford to pay their property taxes) it is clear Franklin County citizens and property owners are still hurting economically. The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County believe taxes are unnecessarily high due to lack of responsible fiscal management at the county level. To again increase taxes on homes and businesses beyond last year’s increases comes from either mismanagement or a lack of focus on the importance of fiscal discipline.
Some background information to consider: The county tax digest (the value of all taxable properties) bottomed out in the 2013-14 budget year at $1.63 billion. Since then, it has been slowly rising; this year’s tax digest is estimated at $1.83 billion, more than a 10 percent increase. Plus. there are other new fees and taxes used in county budgeting in addition to traditional ad valorem tax monies.. They include tourism’s bed tax, sales, gasoline and health care taxes, grants and other significant revenue resources.
So, the 2013-14 county budget was $43.58 million, but the proposed budget for 2017-18 has increased to $52.26 million, a 20 percent Increase over four years. Ad valorem tax collection is proposed to increase by 9 percent over that same four years, which means that additional monies may be unnecessarily taxed on you.
It is also important to keep in mind the millage rate, assessed by county commissioners to partially pay for the budget they approve, can result in your taxes being further increased as well. For example, in the earlier 2013-14 period, millage was set at 6.4705 mills. Now, the proposed millage has been set at 6.3065 mills. Although 6.4 to 6.3 percent seems like a reduction, remember it is now set on a higher individual property assessment that grew from $1.6 to 1.8 billion. So, the proposed lower millage rate for FY 2017-18 will really add another 3 to 5 percent to your upcoming tax bill! This will be the third tax increase in three years, with little or no effort demonstrated by county leadership to cut costs or reduce expenses!
What does this all mean?
The 2017-18 gap, which could be better managed to reach what budget wonks call the rollback rate, is about $500,000, less than 1 percent of spending, in savings. If that 1 percent was saved by good fiscal management and oversight from the latest proposed $52 million budget, most people would see no tax increase this year.
But sadly, there has been no direction to staff to help find ways to close that gap. To the watchdog CCFC, that is the definition of unconscionable. If commissioners don’t even attempt to find any savings, we will face another tax increase as in the last three years; 3 to 5 percent may not sound like a lot but that is cumulative, compounding each and every year. Such reckless and negligent fiscal management is calculated to raise as much money as possible while passing-the-expenses buck to the taxpayers, who will be expected to pay up compliantly, yet again. The county is relatively prosperous now, with no emergencies forecast on the horizon, except maybe for Weems Hospital or a potential hurricane hit. Now is the time to rein in spending.
It’s their money to spend, but it is yours to pay! Let’s ask them to manage OUR monies better, as most of us have to do in our own households.
To see suggestions we believe commissioners and elected officials can accomplish potential reductions in spending, please go the CCFC’s website at ABetterFranklin.com/savings and take a thoughtful look. Between now and budget adoption hearings in September, we hope to encourage real fiscal accountability by our elected leaders. If you agree with us that savings must be identified and maintained to hold taxes stable without unnecessary increases, tell your commissioner to work for the rollback rate. Accept nothing less. Again, it’s YOUR money!
The first budget adoption hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 5:15 p.m. in the courthouse annex. These hearings typically don’t last a long time but your presence and personal demand for the rollback rate at this hearing is very important. If it is just me sitting alone in the audience, commissioners take the cue that you don’t mind having your taxes hiked.
I hope you do mind.
Allan Feifer is president of the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County.