Leave the money in the hands of job creators, residents

Published 8:50 am Monday, May 4, 2015

Traditionally, Beaufort County’s ad valorem or property tax funds 50 percent of our county’s $50,000,000 budget and our balance of readily spendable reserves, i.e., “The Unrestricted Fund Balance,” amounts to somewhere between 25 percent and 33 percent of total expenditures or roughly $14,000,000. However, since the tax revaluation in 2010 these metrics have begun to move upward and, if not dealt with in this month’s budget process, are set to rapidly drain money from businesses and homeowners as budget surpluses accumulate in the hands of a board of commissioners who have proven willing to pour cash into idle industrial parks, ethanol fiascos, unsellable industrial buildings and the mega jail that included everything except a vote by the taxpayers.

Before the 2010 property revaluation, ad valorem taxes brought in $25,000,000, but today’s collections are more in the neighborhood of $33,000,000 and have grown to 65 percent of total county expenditures. Since 2010, the “Unrestricted Fund Balance” has risen from $8,000,000 to $20,000,000. The combination of inflated assessments, high tax rates and tighter compliance will continue to add over $3,000,000 per year to reserves and by 2018 the commissioners’ war chest will exceed $30,000,000.

Ask yourself: Do you want that bunch of characters to have that kind of money?

In the heart of the worst recession in the last 75 years, a recession brought on by a real estate collapse, Beaufort County’s politicians are sucking record amounts of cash from homeowners and local businesses and stockpiling it as cannon fodder for their next grand plan of waste and misuse.

To put the ad valorem tax at 53 cent per $100 of assessed value in perspective, remember that is was established half way into the recession and that property values continued to fall after the revaluation. Currently, a home revalued and assessed at $150,000 in 2010 is likely worth only 80 percent of its assessed value. The 53-cent tax rate amounts to $795 in taxes owed. However, to a new buyer willing to pay today’s price of $120,000, that $795 represents an effective property tax of 66.25 cents per $100 of actual value.

Our labor force and our number of employed are smaller today than at anytime in the last decade, real estate languishes, more people leave this county than are born into it, yet taxes are now pulling more money than ever from our economy. We do not need politicians to take our money and then pretend that they can create jobs with it. Who in their right mind would pick our county’s commissioners as investment advisors? Leave the money in the hands of PCS. They know how to create jobs. Leave the money in the hands of the businesses on Carolina Avenue and Main Street. They know how to create jobs. Leave the money with homeowners. They have spending and investment plans of their own. We do not need politicians to help manage our money.

Our ad valorem tax rate is simply too high. It is a dead weight on real estate and employment.

Warren Smith is a Beaufort County resident.