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Perquimans OKs budget with 2-cent tax rate hike

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By Peter Williams
The Perquimans Weekly

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

HERTFORD — Perquimans County commissioners adopted a $16 million budget this week that includes a property tax rate hike of 2 cents that the county manager said was needed to wean the county off use of its reserve fund.

The vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Kyle Jones casting the lone “no” vote. Explaining his vote, Jones referred to comments he made last year about the county likely facing a tax increase in 2019-20 if it couldn’t get spending under control.

Jones said he didn’t have a problem with increasing spending for the county’s six volunteer fire departments. The 2019-20 budget raises the county’s allocation to each fire department to $75,000.

Board Chairman Wallace Nelson and Commissioner Charles Woodard said they support the budget, which takes effect July 1.

Nelson said Perquimans Emergency Medical Services used to have response times of 30 minutes, but that’s been cut dramatically, in large part because the county added a second paid EMS crew. That, Nelson said, comes at a cost.

“When I look back on it, over my time (on the county commission) I voted on two budgets with a tax increase,” Nelson said. “I don’t think there are any apologizes needed.”

Addressing the funding increase to the fire departments, Nelson said it fulfills an eight-year-old pledge to appropriate$75,000 to each department.

“We would be hard pressed to do what they do on $75,000 a year,” Nelson said.

Woodard noted that the budget for the Elizabeth City Fire Department, which has paid firefighters, is $2.7 million.

“To me, that is money well spent,” Woodard said, referring to the funding increase for Perquimans’ six volunteer fire departments.

A penny of property tax in Perquimans raises the property tax on a $150,000 home by $15 a year. With the rate rising by 2 cents, the taxes on that home would rise by $30 a year.

Even after raising the tax rate from 57 cents per $100 of value to 59 cents, Perquimans’ rate is still the lowest in the region. Camden’s proposed rate for 2019-20 is the closest at 75 cents. Pasquotank has the highest, at 77 cents.

Among North Carolina’s 100 counties, Perquimans now has the 24th-lowest property tax rate, Woodard said.

“Yet 98 percent of the kids in Perquimans graduated high school,” he said.

Woodard said he would hate to see the county quit trying to improve by not increasing funding for needed services.

Two county residents addressed the board about the budget during Monday’s meeting. One, Terry Swope, said he’d only recently moved to the county and didn’t know what level of serviced were offered in the past but he’s happy with them now. Yet, Swope said the county is spending more money to serve roughly the same number of people.

Swope, who recently relocated to Perquimans from California, submitted a one-page report to the board that he said argued against more spending.

“County spending is rising at literally double the rates of incomes. I request an end to the rapid growth in tax and spending in Perquimans County,” he said.

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