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Tax notice stirs voter confusion

It’s not always what you say, but how you say it thatmatters.

When it comes to local taxes, Lincoln County supervisors are sayingit all wrong. Legally, they aren’t allowed to say it right.

An advertisement supervisors ran in the Wednesday edition of TheDAILY LEADER announcing “notice of proposed tax increase and budgethearing” caused some confusion among local taxpayers, who wereexpecting no tax increases for fiscal year 2011. Technically, taxrevenue is going up, but supervisors actually plan to lower theproperty tax levy.

Make sense?

“Yes, (overall) taxes are going up, but it’s minuscule,” saidCounty Administrator David Fields.

According to the county’s 2010-11 budget summary, officials areexpecting about $26,000 more to be generated from the property taxlevy to support county and county school district operations. Thedifference is $19.82 million this year and $19.85 million nextyear.

However, the property tax levy needed to generate those funds isexpected to drop from 100.78 mills this year to 100.18 mills nextyear. The tax levy is used in conjunction with assessed values todetermine how much individual property owners pay in taxes eachyear.

Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the new year budget Sept.15 at 9 a.m. in the county boardroom at the governmentcomplex.

Fields said the revenue increase is being generated by an increasein funding to the Lincoln County School District, which saw itsannual allotment go up about $93,000. The schools’ increase offsetthe overall $67,000 decrease in taxes gathered through propertyassessments, resulting in a net budget revenue increase of$26,000.

The budget maneuvers mean homeowners will pay a bit less in taxeson property that saw no increases in its assessed value. Newproperty and other changes contributed to a 3.21 percent increasedin the overall assessed value of property in the county, which willallow supervisors to lower the tax levy slightly.

However, since property tax revenue is up in the final analysis,state law requires the county to run a notice of proposed taxincrease – whether they’re upping the levy or not.

“If we had just a $1 tax increase, we would have to run thisthing,” Fields said of the notice.

District Three Supervisor Nolan Williamson had several of hisconstituents call about the advertisement, but he understands theirfrustration.

“Times are hard now, especially on the elderly with fixed income,”he said. “A lot of people just read the headline and they see, ‘taxincrease,’ and oh, my gracious. It’s a little bit deceiving in theway it’s written up.”

Board president Doug Moak said supervisors honored their initialpromise to “hold the line” with this year’s budget.

“Every budget notice has this same wording at the top, but we justwant people to understand we’re not asking for any more money,” hesaid.

Moak mentioned urging state legislators to tweak the language ofthe state-mandated budget advertisement.

Such attempts were made earlier this year with House Bill 770,which would have exempted school boards from publishing the taxincrease notice if the increase was derived from increased propertyvalues and not raised millage rates. Likewise, House Bill 619 wouldhave waived the publication if taxes were not increasing.

House bills 777, 1129 and 1370 sought similar tweaks to the law.All five bills died in the House Education and Ways and Meanscommittees.