Caro­line raises in­come tax for school, sher­iff’s of­fice projects

In­crease will help fund new school, new sher­iff’s of­fice

Times-Record - - Front Page - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

DEN­TON — The Caro­line County com­mis­sion­ers voted to raise the in­come tax rate from 2.73 to 3.2 per­cent, ef­fec­tive Jan. 1, to pay for two large cap­i­tal projects.

The unan­i­mous de­ci­sion came at the end of the sec­ond of two meet­ings held Tues­day, Oct. 31 — the com­mis­sion­ers held their reg­u­larly-sched­uled meet­ing in the morn­ing, and a sec­ond meet­ing that night, added specif­i­cally to give cit­i­zens an­other op­por­tu­nity to com­ment on the pro­posed tax rate in­crease.

Com­mis­sion­ers had to vote Oct. 31, as tax rates for the com­ing year must be set by Nov. 1.

The ad­di­tional rev­enue gen­er­ated by the tax rate in­crease will be used to pay the county’s share of con­struc­tion costs for a new Greens­boro El­e­men­tary School — ex­pected to be about $18 mil­lion of the $46 mil­lion to­tal — and for a new $3.5 mil­lion build­ing for the Caro­line County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, to be built on land owned by the county.

Both projects, which will be paid for with 20-year bonds, should be com­pleted in the next four years, Caro­line County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ken Decker said Oct. 31; the tax rate in­crease had to be passed in time for the com­ing year be­cause it takes about 18 months for the county to star t to see the in­creased rev­enue.

Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Dan Franklin said the mean an­nual in­come in Caro­line County is about $56,000. The rate in­crease would cost some­one mak­ing that amount an ad­di­tional $5 a week, he said.

Com­mis­sion­ers said they re­gret­ted hav­ing to pass on a tax in­crease to res­i­dents, but it was the best way to gen­er­ate the rev­enue for the much­needed projects.

“This is a tough de­ci­sion, but the tax in­crease is the only way I see to do it,” said Com­mis­sioner Wil­bur Le­ven­good.

“The cen­tral ques­tion is not about the in­come tax,” Vice Pres­i­dent Larry Porter said. “The ques­tion is, do we be­lieve build­ing a new school in Greens­boro and a func­tional build­ing for the sher­iff’s of­fice is the right thing to do?”

Porter said they chose not to raise the prop­erty tax in­stead be­cause it is al­ready high, and ev­ery­one who lives in the county, in­clud­ing renters, will con­trib­ute to the cost through in­come tax.

He also said money col­lected from ex­cise taxes for newly cre­ated build­ing lots — cur­rently about $311,700 — is ear­marked to help pay for the projects. The county does not col­lect im­pact fees, he said.

Those who spoke against the pro­posed in­crease were con­cerned about tax­pay­ers’ abil­ity to ab­sorb a large jump at once, and what they con­sid­ered a lack of long-term fi­nan­cial plan­ning that led to it.

Dur­ing the morn­ing meet­ing, Charles Caw­ley, of Den­ton, said he at­tended on be­half of younger fam­ily mem­bers to protest the one­time in­crease.

“It’s a lot to take in one fell swoop,” Caw­ley said, sug­gest­ing rais­ing it in­cre­men­tally over three years. “It’s too much of a bur­den for a young fam­ily with chil­dren.”

Decker said the county chose to raise it to 3.2 per­cent be­cause that max­i­mizes the amount of fund­ing the state will con­trib­ute to school con­struc­tions costs, as it uses a for­mula that takes into ac­count the lo­cal in­come tax rate.

“It would be fi­nan­cially coun­ter­pro­duc­tive if we did smaller in­creases,” Decker said. “The county would lose money if we did a par­tial in­crease.”

Caw­ley, a for­mer Caro­line County ad­min­is­tra­tor who served un­til 2008, said the over­crowd­ing is­sues at Greens­boro El­e­men­tary School have been a mount­ing prob­lem for at least the last eight to 10 years.

“My con­cern is there was no long-term plan­ning,” Caw­ley said.

Decker said the re­ces­sion that be­gan in 2008 caused both a loss of funds — in de­creased prop­erty tax rev­enue and se­verely de­creased gas tax money the state used to re­turn to the coun­ties for road main­te­nance — and an in­crease in costs, passed down by the state so it could bal­ance its own bud­get.

No­table among those passed costs were teacher pen­sions, Franklin said; the state used to fully fund those pen­sions, but in 2013, be­gan the process of trans­fer­ring half of that cost to lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions.

“Just that one ac­tion costs us an­nu­ally what the debt ser­vice on both of these projects (the school and the sher­iff’s of­fice) will,” Franklin said.

Dur­ing the evening meet­ing, Eric Knapp, of Den­ton, ques­tioned why money was not be­ing set aside since Greens­boro El­e­men­tary School was built in 1971 for an even­tual re­place­ment.

Mil­ton Nagel, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices for Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools, said many of the schools in the county were built around the same time, in the 1960s and ‘70s, when the state funded 100 per­cent of con­struc­tion costs.

Since schools have to reach 40 years old to qual­ify for what is now the max­i­mum state con­tri­bu­tion — 80 per­cent — many of the sys­tem’s schools were in need of ren­o­va­tion in a short pe­riod. In the past sev­eral years, both Colonel Richard­son mid­dle and high schools and Pre­ston El­e­men­tary School have un­der­gone ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions.

Greens­boro El­e­men­tary School is next on the list, Nagel said. Cur­rently, 819 stu­dents at­tend a school de­signed to hold 670. Nine portable class­rooms be­hind the school help re­lieve the over­crowd­ing.

Nagel said a year-long study de­ter­mined the cheap­est so­lu­tion is to build a new school on the same cam­pus, rather than try to ren­o­vate and add on to the ex­ist­ing build­ing or build an ad­di­tional school far­ther north.

“We do look at it very sys­tem­at­i­cally,” Nagel said. “We have a cap­i­tal im­prove­ment plan, re­quired by the state, and we are lever­ag­ing the most state money pos­si­ble.”

Most of the peo­ple who spoke at both meet­ings Oct. 31 were in fa­vor of the in­crease, if it was the best way to pay for both projects.

Jean­nette DeLude, Greens­boro town man­ager, said the school needed to be re­placed with one large enough to hold all the stu­dents un­der one se­cure roof.

“The stu­dents (in the portable class­rooms) have to go back and forth to the school to use the bath­room, un­su­per vised,” DeLude said.

Fur­ther, if there were an emer­gency on school grounds, the stu­dents would ei­ther have to be moved into the school or stay in the portable class­rooms, which could eas­ily be bro­ken into, DeLude said.

“They would be vul­ner­a­ble,” she said.

Robert Chapel, of Ridgely, said Caro­line County Sher­iff Randy Bounds gave him a tour of the sher­iff’s of­fice, which oc­cu­pies eight rooms in the base­ment of the Caro­line De­ten­tion Cen­ter in Den­ton.

“I was dis­mayed to see it was so dinky and small,” Chapel said. “It looked like a dodgy sit­u­a­tion. Do what you can to keep the cost down, but I would sup­port (a new sher­iff’s of­fice) as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Bounds said the of­fice space is not only cramped — it was last ren­o­vated in 1993, when the of­fice had only 10 em­ploy­ees and mostly pro­vided court­house se­cu­rity — but it no longer meets the needs of the of­fice, which has grown to 40 em­ploy­ees and pro­vides ev­ery law en­force­ment ser­vice from crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions to school re­source of­fi­cers.

The space is also in need of re­pair, Bounds said, de­scrib­ing raw sewage leaks from the jail above it.

“This is a can that has been kicked as far down the road as pos­si­ble,” Bounds said.

COUR­TESY OF CARO­LINE COUNTY

The Caro­line County com­mis­sion­ers voted to raise the in­come tax rate from 2.73 to 3.2 per­cent. This chart shows the monthly and an­nual in­creases as­so­ci­ated with the change, ac­cord­ing to the county’s cal­cu­la­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.