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Editorial:Salisbury faces tight squeeze

How does Salisbury’s property tax rate compare to surrounding cities’ rates? A reader asked that question after a Post editorial called for higher salaries for Salisbury firefighters, who often leave for departments in nearby cities where they can make more money. The same goes for law enforcement officers and many other workers.
The city resident said he was all for paying firefighters more, but he did not want to pay higher taxes. If that’s the view shared by a majority of city residents ó and if Salisbury’s tax base does not grow appreciably, and soon ó the future looks bleak for city workers who deserve better pay.
Compared to the four cities mentioned in that editorial ó chosen because they are near ó Salisbury does have the highest tax rate: 59 cents per $100 valuation, compared to 58 cents in Mooresville, 49 cents in Kannapolis, 42 cents in Concord and 38 cents in Statesville. That does not mean Salisbury has the highest tax burden in the state. Far from it. You can find higher rates here in Rowan, in Spencer and East Spencer.
Compared to other N.C. cities with more than 25,000 people, Salisbury ranks 19th in local government revenues per capita, with a total of $1,559.14 per person. (That includes city and county taxes, based on 2006 figures compiled by the John Locke Foundation). The per capita tax revenues reflect more than tax rate. Each city’s tax base, population and, in some cases, additional school district taxes figure into revenue. The 18 cities in Salisbury’s size category that have higher per capita tax revenues include Statesville (18th) and Concord (14th), as well as Greenville, Monroe, Apex, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, High Point, Hickory, Matthews, Huntersville, Cary, Durham, Asheville, Wilmington, Chapel Hill and ó the highest, at $2,409.17 per person ó Charlotte.
The number that is most significant here, though, is Salisbury’s tax base, which is about $2.8 billion. (The county’s is around $10 billion.) If the city’s tax base grew through the expansion of existing businesses and recruitment of more business and industry, Salisbury could pay firefighters, police officers and others what they deserve without raising the tax rate or fees.
Budget time is several months away, but clearly Salisbury faces challenges. Back in the spring, City Council set a study of city pay as one of its goals for this year, and that study is bound to point to the need for higher wages. County government probably would find the same thing if it scrutinized the pay of county workers. Elected leaders and constituents face difficult decisions. What is it worth to you to pay people fairly?

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