In 2022, a truly amazing confluence of events came together to make it the year when Guilford County government spending – and future commitments to spending – reached levels never seen before in the county. This Thanksgiving, county officials are no doubt very thankful that the county’s taxpayers are so willing to foot the bill, and also that the children of those taxpayers are so willing to do so as well – even though some of those children haven’t been born yet and some are too young to know the meaning of the words “property tax.”
Here are some of the factors that have led to the current year of spending like no one has seen in the previous 250 years of Guilford County’s existence:
•A huge housing market boom in the county at the exact time the Guilford County Tax Department was conducting its countywide property reevaluation. Guilford County has been on a five-year reevaluation cycle, with the last “reval” being conducted in 2017. In 2022, housing values in the county hit all-time highs and just about any house that went on the market sold instantly. The reevaluation in that white- hot housing market brought in north of $80 million extra even though the tax rate in 2022 didn’t change. Since then, the housing market has cooled off and prices have come down – however, Guilford County property owners will continue to pay on the assessed value that’s now locked in until the next revaluation.
•A Democratic-majority Board of Commissioners that is funding schools, county employees and projects like never before. Republican commissioners took control of the board in 2012 and held that power for eight years. During that time, property taxes never went up – in fact, in two of those eight years, the board lowered taxes. In a year when property values increased due to a revaluation, the Republican board held the tax rate “revenue-neutral,” which meant the revaluation didn’t result in more money for the county to spend.
•The passage of a $1.7 billion school bond. There’s no question that Guilford County Schools needed money to repair and build schools, but there’s a very good question as to whether $1.7 billion was needed in one moonshot referendum. That’s such a massive amount that even the NC Local Government Commission – a state financial oversight commission that barely bats an eye at most local government bond referendums – displayed serious concerns as to whether it was a financially responsible move for Guilford County to take on that kind of debt.
This came on the heels of a $300 million school bond that voters approved in 2020 – with the majority of that money still being held in reserve.
•A huge rise in interest rates. Since Guilford County is borrowing and paying back $1.7 billion for the new school bond, it was already planning to pay back well over $2 billion over the next 20 years when interest was factored in. Now that interest rates are much higher in 2022, a good estimate is the school bond will cost $400 million more than was anticipated when voters approved the bond.
• Pay increases and many benefits to county employees. The county manager and county commissioners have never been as good to county employees as they have been in 2022. County administrators point to a new pay study that shows many Guilford County employees are making less than those in similar positions in comparable counties in the state. One Guilford County director got a 22 percent raise last week, and all county employees are getting raises this month after across-the-board 5 percent raises near the start of 2022. There has also been a major upgrade in employee insurance and retirement benefits.
•Over $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act money that the board has been handing out to local governments, non-profits and other entities. County officials are quick to point out that this money is from the federal government so the responsibility for paying for it doesn’t fall on county property owners. (It only falls on county citizens who pay federal income tax and other federal taxes.)
There’s plenty more going on in Guilford County – for instance, a new Sheriff’s Department headquarters is being built and the county built and opened a new animal shelter, Emergency Services maintenance facility, and a new mental health center in the last two years.
None of this comes cheap, so county officials will no doubt be very grateful for the generosity of Guilford County’s taxpayers for many Thanksgivings to come.