City explains reason for raising taxes

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Despite a 17 percent drop in the appraised value of owner-occupied homes, according to the County Tax Assessor, taxable assessed values of those properties will increase by 1 percent. Careful and cautious management of Beaufort’s budget means minor property tax increases from the city for Fiscal Year 2014.

It is anticipated that owner-occupied homes within the city will also see increases from the other taxing jurisdictions as well during this property tax season.

The typical owner-occupied home within the city limits appraised at $150,000 will see City of Beaufort property taxes total about $340 this year — or an average increase of $65 from 2013. Other increases will be experienced for the county and school district property taxes.

While the average decrease in the appraised value of an owner-occupied property was approximately $49,342 or 17.15 percent in Beaufort, the average taxable assessed value of that property within the city increased by one percent.

“Basically, council and staff took several long, hard looks at our financial status, and at where we need to be in the future and how we can get there,” City Manager Scott Dadson said.  “We presented some options to improve the revenue stream but for a lot of reasons, those didn’t work out.

“In the end, we cut back on services that some people will probably object to, such as we won’t do as much landscaping maintenance in the Waterfront Park this year. On the positive side, we balanced the budget with only very minor adjustments in the tax rate,” he said.

Since about 2009, property values have dropped in the City of Beaufort, across Beaufort County and in most places in the United States. Within the City, appraised values have dropped from $2.3 billion to $1.8 billion, a decrease of $458 million or 20.3 percent since the last reassessment for tax year 2008, said Kathy Todd, finance director for Beaufort.

“This equates to a total $8.4 million or an 11.41 percent decrease in taxable assessed value over the same period,” she said. “The City has held the tax rate steady at 60.62 mils during this time.  With shifts in taxable assessed values, the City has held costs down. The approach has been to provide quality services without increasing costs or property tax rates — in essence, doing more with less.”

When the city began to prepare for the FY 2014 budget cycle, City Council and the City Manager’s staff looked at various options to lessen the tax impact on local property owners.

“We pursued very aggressively the local option sales tax within the county as a way of shifting the tax burden away from its residents,” Dadson said.  However, this option was rejected by the county.

In addition, Beaufort leaders presented several alternate revenue sources to make up the expected shortfall in property tax revenues from the reassessment process. At the same time, department heads scrutinized their projected needs and costs for the upcoming year — and cut the budget even further with a careful eye on service levels, Dadson said.

City Council approved a 4.32 percent Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase to the rollforward millage to cover the expected shortfall in revenues without substantially impacting the services that city residents have come to expect.  This is no different than what the county and the school district did in the adoption of their millage rates for FY 2014.

“We did have to make some cuts that people may notice,” Dadson said. “That’s the balance between raising revenues and reducing services. We are working with our partners to increase economic growth in Beaufort and hope increased investment in our city will put us in better shape.”

For more details about Beaufort’s FY2014 budget, tax rate comparisons and charts, visit www.cityofbeaufort.org/finance.