11.5˘ Tax Hike

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 10, 2013

County Commissioner Terry Renegar said at the end of last week’s meeting that he hoped the upcoming bond vote for a new high school wouldn’t be contentious.

He had found out earlier in the meeting he was wrong.

Commissioners on a 3-2 vote agreed to include an 11.5-cent tax increase to pay for the approximately $54.5 million project, if approved by voters in May. Renegar and Richard Poindexter voted against the motion, saying the county could reduce the tax increase by using money that would become available as other debts are paid. Board member Carl Humphrey made the motion, and it was supported by Chair Robert Wisecarver. Mark Jones also voted for it after a compromise he proposed didn’t receive much support from either side.

Renegar said that, as passed, the county will pay an extra $21 million to build the school. He told Humphrey and Wisecarver that he appreciates their conservative points of view. “But I don’t understand why you would support that option. What is your rationale?”

“This facility needs to stand on its own,” Wisecarver said. Debt roll off, he said, is not an entitlement. “I’m trying to be fair to the taxpayers as being honest to what it’s going to cost.”

“I think it keeps the county safer,” Humphrey said, adding that going with the 11.5 cent increase for the school will free up more money for the sheriff’s department, EMS and other services. Using the debt roll-off “scares me to death,” he said.

Renegar agreed that the school issue should stand on its own, but didn’t understand “a burden to the taxpayer.”

The 11.5-cent tax increase is what the county is sending to the state Local Government Commission and is “a baseline starting point,” Jones said. He said he couldn’t support the 8-cent tax increase option, using debt roll off, because the schools will have other needs because the school system uses about $1 million a year from its reserves. Using the debt roll off would eventually guarantee higher taxes, Jones said.

When the bonds are sold, Jones thinks the board will find a “middle ground.” He called the 11.5 cent rate “the most fiscally responsible.”