Camden budget proposes 3-cent tax hike


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, May 24, 2018

CAMDEN — The average Camden property owner could be looking at a tax increase of about $63 next year if county commissioners don’t identify deep cuts in the budget put forward by County Manager Ken Bowman or opt to spend a bigger chunk of the county’s fund balance.

Bowman unveiled a proposed budget for 2018-19 this week that proposes raising the county’s tax rate by 3 cents and uses $250,000 from the county’s fund balance.

“Our preference is that any tax increase should be avoided when possible, but given the options that we have at our disposal, this is the most fiscally responsible path for us to follow,” Bowman wrote in the budget message that accompanies his recommended 2018-19 budget.

Under Bowman’s plan, the county’s property tax rate would rise to 75 cents per $100 valuation from the current 72 cents.

Bowman noted a tax rate increase would increase property taxes by about $63 a year for the average Camden homeowner, based on an average home valuation of $212,000.

Bowman’s recommended budget also increases the county’s monthly residential sewer rate by $1 and monthly commercial sewer rates by $2. It also increases the tier rate structure for water and sewer, in an effort to bring the South Camden Water and Sewer District closer to a break-even operation that isn’t subsidized by tax revenues. Bowman noted the 2,000-gallon monthly water user would remain at the 2017-18 rate.

A public hearing on Bowman’s recommended budget is slated for Monday, June 4 at 7 p.m.

Camden’s recommended general fund budget for next year is $12.5 million. That’s actually a $71,684 reduction from the current year general fund budget of $12.6 million. But the reduction is a result of debt payments that are ending and a corresponding loss in restricted revenue that was covering the debt payment.

Bowman explained that the county’s projected property tax revenue with the current 72-cent rate would be $12,012,835, leaving a shortfall of $553,724.

The options for making up that shortfall, as presented by Bowman, include:

* increasing the property tax rate by 5.5 cents to generate an additional $553,724;

* reducing general fund spending by $553,724;

* using $553,724 from fund balance — the county’s cash reserve; or

* using a hybrid approach that includes a raising the tax rate by 3 cents and pulling $250,000 from the county’s fund balance.

Bowman said in his budget message that he had trimmed budget requests from various county departments to reduce the shortfall from $749,652 to $553,724.

Top departmental expenditures in the recommended budget for 2018-19 include $1.8 million for the Sheriff’s Office; $1.1 million for capital outlay and debt service; $457,965 for public works and buildings and grounds; $455,274 for planning and inspections; and $240,877 for the Register of Deeds Office.

Among the non-departmental spending in the recommended budget is $2.6 million for Camden County Schools operations and $295,000 for school capital outlay; $529,973 for the county’s share of the Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services budget; $304,173 for Camden’s shares for Pasquotank-Camden Central Communications and Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management; and $337,015 for the county’s share for Albemarle District Jail.

Bowman said the county’s revenue outlook points to the need for new businesses.

“In light of the slow economic recovery, the county must continue to explore ways to diversify its revenue streams through the attraction of commercial and industrial investment,” Bowman said in the budget message. “For many years, the county has relied heavily upon residential property taxes as a means of meeting its operating expenses, and there is real concern that a decline in valuation will have a significant negative impact on revenues.”

Bowman explained that a 3-cent property tax hike in the 2017-18 budget covered half of a $600,000 increase in school operating expenses, with the other half of the increase covered by fund balance. School operations funding remains at the current $2.6 million in Bowman’s recommended budget for the coming fiscal year.