What's going on with Washington County property tax growth?

Robert Houk • May 23, 2018 at 9:41 AM

Washington County officials said Wednesday they are on track to have a new budget ready for the County Commission’s approval next month, but warn trouble may be looming on the horizon. Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge told members of the commission’s Budget Committee there are several issues they should keep an eye on.

One of the most troubling, he said, is the county’s anemic property tax growth. Eldridge said while investments have grown, property taxes are projected to increase by just $70,000 in the new fiscal year.

“I can’t explain it,” Eldridge aid. “What’s strange is we had more growth coming out of the recession.”

He said the consequences of slow property tax growth could impact future budgets, specifically that of the Washington County School System. Eldridge told county commissioners the school system has a plan to erase a  $3.1 million deficit in its proposed new budget through attrition and use of its fund balance. Eldridge said that solution would get schools through the next fiscal year, but without significant property tax growth or substantial spending cuts, the system will need a 10-cent tax increase to balance its budget in 2020.

Members of the Budget Committee have asked county Assessor of Property Scott Buckingham to join them at their next meeting on May 30 to discuss the county’s property tax growth.

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Joe Grandy, who chairs the Budget Committee, said his panel is confident it can erase a $400,000 deficit in the proposed new general fund budget. Commissioners are expected to vote on a new budget before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

“We are in good shape,” Grandy said of the Budget Committee’s schedule.

He said it is important to have a new budget in place “with the transition” of officeholders the county will soon be seeing. The County Commission will be downsized to 15 members in the August election.

There will also be new faces on the Budget Committee in September. Grandy, who is facing independent candidate James Reeves for county mayor in the Aug. 2 general election, is not seeking re-election to the commission. The same is true for Commissioners Todd Hensley, Paul Stanton and Rick Storey, who is running unopposed for county trustee in August.

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