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Rate Or Revenue-Neutral? County Property Tax Debate Begins

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110412.mp3

Property values have improved enough over the last 8 years the Mecklenburg County could collect an additional $66 million if the tax rate stays the same. That's a big if, pending the outcome of debate County Commissioners will begin today. The question for Mecklenburg County Commissioners is whether to go rate-neutral or revenue-neutral. Rate-neutral means they keep the property tax rate the same: 83.87 cents per $100 of property value. Because property values overall have gone up since the last time that rate was set, the county will actually collect more money if the rate stays the same. It also means if your property value has gone up, you will pay more taxes. Now, the other option is revenue-neutral meaning commissioners lower the tax rate so the county collects exactly the same amount in property taxes next year as it did this year - about $842 million. The Charlotte Observer crunched the numbers and found the county could cut the tax rate about six cents and still get to that figure. The trouble with that, says County Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts is many costs for the county have gone up, including health care and fuel. "All those things tied to inflation are going to mean that just stay where we are now is gonna cost more," says Roberts. "So if we keep the same revenue, we cut further." CMS is already bracing for state and local cuts as large as $100 million. Libraries, parks and other county operations have all been hampered by previous cuts. "Where is that critical point that you set the rate so you know you're not undercutting your services so much so that people are gonna start leaving?" asks Roberts. On the other hand, Roberts notes there are homeowners struggling enough economically they can't afford to pay a higher tax bill. Today at 3 p.m. in room 267 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, county commissioners will begin what is likely to be a heated debate at their budget workshop. Public hearings on the tax rate will happen in mid-May, so the county can get a final budget in place by July.