My turn: Property tax reduction — a question for candidates

Published 7:49 pm Friday, January 29, 2016

At the top of the 2007 real estate bubble, residents of Beaufort County paid $22,283,649 in property taxes. In 2016, property taxes collected will total to $33 million on real estate values still struggling to recover within a local economy that is providing fewer jobs than at anytime in the last 10 years.



This represents an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent in the taxes levied on the residents of a Tier 1 county during a period of time when interest rates have been negligible, while increases in income and inflation have hovered below 2 percent. A significant portion of this revenue has been wasted on the county board’s singularly unsuccessful real estate speculations, as well as a long list of lesser vanity projects and minor giveaways to favored voting blocs. Furthermore, an additional $18 million, which was withdrawn from our economy by excessive taxes and fees, now sits in various county trust and enterprise accounts as an enticement for whatever spending scheme our commissioners can dream up next.

Beaufort County is no longer a train wreck waiting to happen. It’s a train wreck in progress.

Taxpayers have lost a hospital to political mismanagement and barely escaped being forced into funding Phase I of a $45 million jail, a facility large enough to have incarcerated three out of every 100 adult males in the county. We have had four county managers in the last five years and three finance officers in the last two years. The 2016 budget took taxpayers and local media by surprise. It was a cobbled together grab bag of spending increases created by an interim bureaucrat whose idea of budgeting was to throw other people’s money at imagined problems and then leave town. This has left us with a steeply increased rate of spending as we approach the next revaluation.

Government needs to be funded, but not overfunded.

During the last 10 years, all the basic and essential county services have been provided, yet the rate of tax collections has allowed for over $12 million in waste and the accumulation of another unspent sum of approximately $18 million. By opting to accumulate vacant industrial parks, empty buildings and idle trust balances, our commissioners have denied taxpayers the use of their own money to pay down mortgages, credit card balances and other debt that could have saved our community over $3 million in interest charges during the last year alone.

County taxes create an opportunity cost that harms the local economy.

We cannot do much about the $12 million destroyed by the economic development boondoggle or about how we basically gave a hospital away by spending $19 million on its remodeling so that we could sell it for what amounts to $20 million paid out over the next 40 years. However, we can demand reforms in the budget process that will lead to less arbitrary spending by commissioners, and we can ask each candidate in next November’s election to take a public position on reducing property taxes.

Warren Smith is a resident of Beaufort County.