Numbers to think about

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rowan County’s proposed budget does not deliver on some of the expectations raised under the county commission’s new leadership. This is, however, only the first draft.

As presented by County Manager Aaron Church earlier this week, the budget does not provide funds to raise Rowan-Salisbury teacher supplements, some of the lowest in our region. Nor does it address the top prio​r​ity identified during the March community forum focused on economic development: spec buildings.

Nevertheless, the proposed budget starts with an optimistic message from the county manager. Some important points:

• With county property tax rates in the state averaging 64.12 cents per $100 valuation, Rowan ranks about 55th among the 100 counties.

• If Church had recommended all the budget requests he received, the proposed budget would have been more than $20 million higher and require a 10-cent tax hike. Rowan would shoot up the property-tax rankings to 10th highest rate in the state, according to Church.

• “The central theme for this budget is excitement, renewal and growth,” Church says in his budget message. Sales tax revenues spur some of that energy; they’re up 8 percent so far this fiscal year. After years of sagging retail in the county, the current year’s budget had anticipated only a 1.8 percent increase in sales tax revenue.

• “In Rowan County it seems as if a growth spurt is just around the corner,” Church says. Everyone hopes he’s right. Nevertheless, Church has to base his budget on what is already here, not what might be built. Don’t count your chicks before they hatch.

• The county had a revaluation this year, and total property valuation dropped. To raise the same amount of money as the county budgeted this year — to be revenue neutral — the tax rate would have to go up 1.25 cents per $100, making it 66.25 cents. If your property’s value stayed steady at $100,000, this would mean a tax increase of $12.50 for the year.

​We know some growth is on the way, such as new retail stores off Julian Road — Kirkland’s, Mattress Firm​, Salsarita’s​, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Hobby Lobby​ in Shoppes at Summit. In addition, Strategic Moves Aircraft Management ​is moving its headquarters to the ​county ​airport​.

The question is whether crucial initiatives will have to wait for the tax base to grow before these improvements can be funded, or if commissioners will increase the tax rate enough to make progress on education, economic development and other crucial areas. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg, the improvements or the increased tax base? What do you think?