Home Local News Richmond County lowers tax rate; increases waste fees for all, water for...

Richmond County lowers tax rate; increases waste fees for all, water for commercial

County Manager Bryan Land presents the 2024-2025 fiscal year budget to commissioners on June 4. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County’s property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year is the lowest it’s been in more than four decades and leaders say they want to lower it even more in future years.

The Richmond County Board of Commissioners on June 4 voted to lower the tax rate to $0.75 per $100 of valuation — down from $0.83 — balancing the budget at $64,282,482, an increase of more than $5 million from the outgoing fiscal year.

Of course, it comes following the county’s required eight-year revaluation process, which saw property values increase dramatically.

County Manager Bryan Land said it was the first major price appreciation in real estate in almost 20 years, attributing it to the “smoldering real estate market” since the pandemic.

Land said that property and sales tax revenue — the county’s main sources of income — is expected to “substantially” exceed the amount budgeted for the soon-to-end fiscal year, adding that “the need for these additional funds is great.”

Some of those expenditures, Land said, include server upgrades for the IT Department, demolition of the old Locker Plant in downtown Rockingham, paving the parking lot for the jail and magistrate’s office, increasing funding to the community theater, and a contribution to the town of Norman in the amount of $30,270.

Land said the budget also includes a 4% pay hike for full-time employees, 50% increase to the municipalities (Rockingham, Hamlet, Ellerbe, Dobbins Heights and Hoffman) for parks and recreation programs.

The county is providing $12.927M to Richmond County Schools (8.45% increase from previous year), and $2.588M for Richmond Community College.

Other departmental expenses include:

  • Social Services – $9.007M
  • Richmond County Sheriff’s Office – $6.798M
  • Health Department – $6.744M
  • Jail Administration – $3.032M
  • Emergency Services – $2.53M
  • Economic Development – $1.143M
  • Child Support Services – $993,710
  • Building Inspections – $545,031
  • Airport – $442,998
  • Cooperative Extension – $356,805
  • Soil and Water Conservation – $122,240
  • Area of Richmond Transit – $91,987

The budget also calls for $236,298 in allotments to the county’s volunteer fire departments and $1.744M for rescue services.

Land said the current property tax rate has been a challenge in the recruitment of new industries, “but we have done well holding our own against our peers.”

“Over the past seven years, the county’s made great strides in improving our overall financial picture,” Land said.

Those efforts, Land said, include slashing the county’s debt burden by more than 50%, increasing the unassigned fund balance from 5.03% to 24.81%, and increasing the available fund balance.

Land pointed out that no transfers from the Solid Waste Fund or General Fund have been used to balance the budget in the past several years.

However, there will be a 2.8% increase in commercial and residential solid waste fees. Land said the county has absorbed increases from Uwharrie Environmental including an upcoming 42% hike in tire disposal.

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Fuel prices are also “continue to be a major concern,” Land said.

There will be no increase for residential water customers, according to Land, but commercial customers will see a 4.1% jump. Land said occasional increases are required to keep up with rising costs.

Following Land’s presentation, Commissioner Andy Grooms highlighted some of the new expenses and said he believes the county will be in a position next year to lower the rate even more.

“I think that needs to be priority No. 1 when we start our budget cycle in February,” Grooms said.

Both Grooms and Commissioner Jason Gainey pointed to increased expenses caused by Trillium — which took over operations of the Sandhills Center — ceasing to provide funding to the Department of Social Services.

According to the N.C. Department of Revenue, there are 13 counties with higher tax rates this current fiscal year — which ends June 30 — than Richmond, including neighboring Scotland County with a rate of $0.99. Hyde County has the highest rate at $1.045.

Most of these counties are also listed as some of the most economically depressed in the state, with the exception of Orange County.

Commissioner Dr. Rick Watkins said there are still unknown variables regarding the county’s income, and noted that the county is required to pass a budget by June 30.

“We have to the best we can to project in the most conservative way possible and put the county in a position to move forward without losing services for our citizens,” Watkins said. “And I think we do that.”

Watkins added that the board is “committed to reducing the tax burden on citizens in Richmond County.”

“Just because we reduce it 8 cent this year doesn’t mean we cannot move forward and reduce again next year,” Watkins continued, saying that with a revaluation year, projections get “difficult and a little squirrely for us.”

If the county can recruit more industry to carry the tax burden, Watkins said, residential taxes should be able to decrease.