Finding Change in the Cushions:
Our County taxes are again on the rise.
Franklin County is returning to the old days of allowing increasing property values to result in unnecessary high tax collections. What will this mean to your own household finances and why are elected officials deliberately allowing this to happen to us all, again?
After attending the budget workshops for this upcoming fiscal year, I came to realize that county leadership is not scrutinizing spending and costs as it was forced to do when we were in crisis mode after the last real estate collapse. And, with over eleven hundred property tax certificates sold on the courthouse steps this year, (citizens that could not afford to pay their property taxes) it is clear that Franklin county citizens and property owners are still hurting economically. We believe taxes are unnecessarily high due to lack of responsible fiscal management at the county level. To again increase taxes on homes and businesses beyond last year’s increases comes from either mismanagement or a lack of focus on the importance of fiscal discipline.
Here is some background information for you to consider: The County Tax Digest (the value of all taxable properties) bottomed out in the 2013/2014 budget year at $1.632 billion. Since then, it has been slowly rising: this year’s Tax Digest is estimated at $1.825 billion - more than a 10% increase. (And remember there are other new fees and taxes also available and used in county budgeting IN ADDITION TO THE TRADITIONAL FUNDING WELL OF AD VALOREM MONIES; they include Tourism’s bed tax, Sales, Gasoline and Health Care taxes, grants and other significant revenue resources.
So, the 2013-14 county budget was $43.584 million but the new proposed budget for 2017-18 has increased to $52.259 million. (That is a 20% Increase over four years.) Ad Valorem tax collection is proposed to be increased by 9% over that same four years. This all means that additional monies may be unnecessarily taxed on you.
It is also important to keep in mind that the millage rate – assessed on you by the county commissioners to partially pay for the budget they approve –can result in your taxes being further increased as well. For example, in that earlier 2013/2014 period, millage was set at 6.4705 mills. Now, the proposed millage has been set at 6.3065 mills. Although 6.4 to 6.3% seems like a reduction, remember it is now set on a higher individual property assessment that grew from $1.6 to 1.8 billion. So, the proposed ‘lower’ millage rate taxes for FY 2017-18 will really add another 3-5% increase to your upcoming tax bill! This will be the third tax increase in three years, with little or no effort demonstrated by county leadership to cut costs or reduce expenses!
What does this all mean?
The 2017-18 gap - which could be better managed to reach what budget ‘wonks’ call the Roll Back Rate - is about $500,000 (less than 1% of spending.) in savings or recoupments. If that 1% was saved by good fiscal management and oversight from the latest proposed $52 million budget, most people would see no tax increase this year.
But sadly, there has been no direction to staff to help find ways to close that gap. To the watchdog CCFC, that is the definition of unconscionable. If commissioners don’t even attempt to find any savings, we will face another tax increase as in the last three years. 3-5 percent may not sound like a lot but that is cumulative, compounding each and every year. Such reckless and negligent fiscal management is calculated to raise as much money as possible while passing-the-expenses buck to the taxpayers, who will be expected to pay up compliantly, yet again. The county is relatively prosperous now, with no emergencies forecast on the horizon (except maybe for Weems Hospital or potential hurricane hit.) Now is the time to rein in spending.
It’s their money to spend, but it is yours to pay! Let’s ask them to manage OUR monies better, as most of us have to do in our own households.
To see suggestions we believe commissioners and elected officials can accomplish potential reductions in spending, please go the CCFC’s website at ABetterFranklin.com/savings and take a thoughtful look. Between now and Budget Adoption Hearings in September, we hope to encourage real fiscal accountability by our elected leaders. If you agree with us that savings must be identified and maintained to hold taxes stable without UNNECEESSARY increases, tell your Commissioner to work for the Rollback rate. (By the way, we hear the School Board will also be delivering a millage rate increase to further increase those taxes. Demand fiscal responsibility from your School Board representative as well!)
Accept nothing less. Again, it’s YOUR money!
We invite you to join the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. to add your voice of support to our watchdog group. Only with citizen numbers in attendance at annual budget hearings – and regular commission meetings - will we have the most positive effect on our commissioners and constitutional officers. Good government only happens in the sunshine. Shine a little bit of your own light to encourage local government to be fiscally accountable to the taxpayers they serve. By your presence and interest, you will let them know we are watching their choices and actions on behalf of all of Franklin County!
The first Budget Adoption Hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, September 5th at 5:15 in the new Courthouse Annex. These hearings typically don’t last a long time but your presence and your personal demand for the rollback rate at this hearing is very important. If it is just me sitting alone in the audience, Commissioners take the cue that you don’t mind having your taxes hiked.
I hope you do mind.
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County