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Charlotte Area

Union County Commissioners OK 15.4% Tax Hike

MONROE Union County commissioners approved a 15.4 percent tax increase Monday night to cover school district expenses, which will add about $200 to the bill for a typical taxpayer.

The closely divided vote on the 2014-15 budget came on the last day of the fiscal year.

“It creates a tremendous amount of heartburn, the idea that we’ve got to raise taxes on the people of Union County,” said commissioner Jonathan Thomas, who blamed an “out-of-control school board.”

The budget passed 3-2. Thomas and commissioner Todd Johnson were the “no” votes.

With the new budget, the tax rate on real estate and personal property moves from 66 cents to 76.14 cents per $100 of valuation.

That means the tax bill for a $200,000 home would increase by $203, moving from $1,320 to $1,523. County staff said the tax rate would not need to increase next year, as it accounts for estimated growth in student population and inflation.

Several neighboring counties kept their tax rates the same for the fiscal year that starts Tuesday, with Mecklenburg at 81.57 cents, Cabarrus at 70 cents and Gaston at 87 cents. Union’s tax increase now pushes the county even closer to Mecklenburg’s rate.

This was the first time Union commissioners raised taxes since 2007, and it capped a second consecutive year where commissioners and the school board had often been at odds over the budget.

Last year, the school board successfully sued the county over the amount of money it was to get from the county, winning $91 million from a local jury. The case remains under appeal, even as combined legal bills now top $1.7 million.

“The past 12 months has been a strenuous, arduous and painful process,” commissioners Vice Chair Jerry Simpson said. He voted for the tax hike.

Amid additional squabbling between commissioners and the school board this year, state Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, successfully introduced a bill that put a two-year moratorium on the school board’s ability to sue over budget disputes.

The bill also set minimum funding levels for the school district. The dollar figure is near the amount the two sides had been discussing but still much less than the school board had hoped for.

The bottom line: The school district is receiving $19.5 million for capital expenses and $87.1 million for general operating funds. That’s an increase from the $17.9 million in capital and $83 million in operating expenses it received in the most recent year. Last week, school officials told the county the general operating fund total is still less than what they need to effectively run the district.

The total county general operating fund for 2014-15 is $268 million, a nearly 6 percent increase over the prior year.

For the first time, the county presented its tax rate as two components: school district funding, and all other county functions, from libraries to the sheriff’s department. County operations did not contribute to the tax increase.

The split tax rate upset school board members who felt they were being unfairly singled out. People still will receive one tax bill though.

Also in the budget, residential water and sewer rates increase by 6.5 percent each year for the next three years, mostly to cover system maintenance and improvements. The average monthly customer bill moves from $48.50 to $51.90 in the new fiscal year.

More at CharlotteObserver.com.