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Editorial: Balancing act on tax rate

Land owners are waiting to see what property-tax rate the Rowan County Board of Commissioners will set. Then ó and only then ó most will decide what they think of this yearís revaluation.
Then ó and only then ó they will know if their taxes are being increased or decreased.
The recession and revaluation have disproved the usual property-tax principles. In the past, commissioners could count on at least two things with revaluation:
The tax base would increase.
The tax rate could decrease and still produce the same amount of revenue.
But we live in unprecedented times, here in the afterburn of the Great Recession. So commissioners and municipal officials are faced with two totally new concepts:
The tax base has fallen.
The rate will have to rise to produce the same amount of revenue as last year.
Increasing the rate is not the same as increasing taxes, but at least a couple of commissioners donít want to argue such fine points. Jim Sides and Carl Ford say they will not increase the tax rate. If they find a third commissioner who feels the same way, they will in effect give the majority of homeowners and businesses in Rowan County a tax cut. Yahoo. But thereís a downside; theyíd have to cut some $2.5 million out of county expenses to balance the budget.
It would be wrong to think the downsizing of government is only commencing now; the process started three years ago for local government. Over that period, according to County Manager Gary Page, county departments have taken about 10 percent in budget cuts, eliminating 33 positions and putting workers on furlough for three days. For the third year in a row, the county has cut employeesí health insurance. The last raises county workers received were implemented in July 2008.
Taxpayers should not expect a tax cut right now any more than county employees should expect a pay raise. The money is not there. Before revaluation, Page was already looking for $3 million in budget cuts just to maintain. If the tax rate stays the same and county revenue falls another $2-2.5 million, ěmaintainî may become a thing of the past.
Rowan is in danger of falling further behind than it already is. Low taxes are a worthy goal, but commissioners have other goals as well ó improving education, protecting citizens, serving business needs. So far they have struck a good balance. The county has avoided the kind of wrenching school closings and teacher layoffs Charlotte-Mecklenburg has experienced. Weíve kept our parks and libraries open, albeit with shorter hours. Services have continued, even with budget cuts.
Taxpayers may be on the fence about revaluation, but theyíll come down on commissionersí side if the board continues to strive for ó and find ó the right balance.

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