Council seeks options for growing tax base

Published 3:35 pm Monday, February 20, 2017

One way to grow Washington’s tax base would be to annex specific areas into the city. Thanks to changes in North Carolina’s annexation laws, the likelihood of the city annexing significant residential and/or industrial areas is slim to none.

From time to time, the city receives and approves requests for satellite annexations, usually from a business or industry that wants city services such as water, sewer, police and fire services and the like.

The issue of growing the city’s tax base surfaced at the City Council’s retreat Feb. 11.

There is a simple reason the city would like to expand its tax base: money. An expanded tax base — by way of annexing a sizeable residential development or commercial area — would produce more revenue for the city by way of property taxes and some fees, such as stormwater-treatment fees.

City officials — elected and appointed — realize the restrictions placed on involuntary annexation mean the city has to find other ways to grow its tax base.

Mayor Mac Hodges, during the retreat, noted the city provides many services, programs and facilities used by people who are not city residents. “What you really have is a city of 30,000 people with 10,000 people (city residents) paying the taxes,” Hodges said.

Councilman Doug Mercer said Washington’s population has remained about the same as it was when he graduated from high school in 1953 — about 10,000 people. Growing the city’s population would help alleviate the burden on city taxpayers, who pay the bill for non-city residents who use city-provided facilities, programs and services, Mercer said. The veteran council member said the city is partly at fault when it comes to not growing its population because it had no aggressive policy on annexation. The city went through two involuntary annexations during the past 50 years or so, Mercer said.

At least one council member is satisfied with the city’s growth status. “I don’t want it to grow,” said Councilwoman Virginia Finnerty, saying significant growth would destroy the city’s charms — its history, the old homes in its historic district and the small-town atmosphere that many people in metropolitan areas such as Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro come to Washington to enjoy.

Council members and the mayor said the city could do a better job of promoting the benefits of living in the city. One key reason many people oppose annexation is that they would have to pay city taxes in addition to county taxes. Hodges said someone who lives outside the city and pays a private trash-collection service possibly would save money because the city provides such a service at a lower cost. The mayor said city residents benefit from water and wastewater-treatment services. A non-city resident just outside the city and who has a septic tank would pay a lot of money to repair or replace a malfunctioning septic tank, Hodges said.

With the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the past 25 years and revenue associated with those jobs, the city must become aggressive in bringing jobs that pay a “living wage” — not minimum-wage jobs — into the city, Mercer noted. To help accomplish that, area residents need to be trained so they can find work at places that are becoming more and more automated and technologically advanced, resulting in work once performed by people going away. Companies that use robotic arms in the manufacturing process might not need as many employees as the did in the past, but when a robotic arm breaks, someone has to fix it, Mercer said. The problem, according to Mercer, is many area residents don’t possess that skill. That’s where providing the workforce the training it needs, comes in, he said.


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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