County passes 2017-18 budget, ups property tax rate

Published 8:14 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SWAN QUARTER — Hyde County’s budget for fiscal year 2017-18 is officially in the books and includes a hike in property tax rates.

Hyde County Board of Commissioners approved the budget at the June 5 meeting, and county Manager Bill Rich signed budget revision ordinances earlier this week.

There are five areas that leverage the most expenses for the county, a group Rich referred to as the “five biggies”: Hyde County Schools, Hyde County Health Department, social services, EMS services and Hyde County Sheriff’s Office.

To help cover some of those expenses, the county increased its property tax rate from 64 to 73 cents per $100 valuation, a move that was necessary in light of declining real estate values, according to Rich.

The 9-cent hike on a $100,000 home, for example, would equate to a $90 increase in property taxes.

The board also raised the occupancy tax rate by 2 cents on Ocracoke, which Rich said equates to about $20,000 extra in revenue to be used for marketing purposes. Money previously allotted for marketing was then freed up for use in other areas, he added.

County commissioners voted down a request, however, to use $100,000 in occupancy tax revenue toward EMS services, which were allotted a little more than $1.6 million in 2017-18.

Rich said EMS services remain a top priority in Hyde County, as there is no hospital in either mainland Hyde or Ocracoke. Patients are either flown to Vidant Medical Center or transported by ambulance to Dare County.

“We do not have a hospital either place, so EMS is the hospital 24/7,” he said.

Rich said emergency personnel are usually busy, but especially during the summer season on Ocracoke, where people experience stings, heat illness or even drowning.

Earlier this year, Hyde County Board of Education requested an increase in funding from the commissioners — a total of almost $1.75 million. The commissioners instead awarded the school district $1.63 million, or approximately $55,000 more than last year.

“They were not given everything they asked for,” Rich said. “The timing of the request is before … the Senate and the House approve their budget.”

“There’s just too many unknowns,” he added.

Rich said the county tried to give the schools as much as it could comfortably without having those blanks filled in. The Board of Education and Board of Commissioners agreed to meet on a quarterly basis to discuss any needed revisions.

Despite the tax increase and ongoing challenges associated with emergency services, Rich said he is optimistic about Hyde County’s economy during the upcoming fiscal year.

With a healthy fund balance and crops faring well so far, Rich said he feels comfortable moving into the new year.