The old joke, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out,” is an entirely fitting description for the City Council work session on Thursday, May 26.
It took a while, but after about 90 minutes of drivel and claptrap, Mayor Nancy Vaughan brought up the proposed 30 percent property tax increase and the City Council finally discussed the overall budget, and not $50 here or $150 there, which it had been discussing in great detail.
The budget proposed by City Manager Tai Jaiyeoba maintains the 66.25 cent tax rate, but because of the revaluation of property by Guilford County, the result of not lowering the tax rate is about a 30 percent property tax increase.
The revenue neutral rate of 54.56 cents would result in the city receiving the same amount of property taxes as if there had not been a revaluation. Another way to look at it is that if there had not been a revaluation, Jaiyeoba would be proposing an 11.39 cent tax increase.
The last tax increase, which was discussed at length by the City Council before being imposed, was 3 cents in 2019. The tax rate increase that Jaiyeoba is proposing in his first budget is nearly four times the 2019 increase.
City managers invariably emphasize that the budget they are presenting is in line with the priorities set by the City Council at its annual winter retreat. Jaiyeoba did this, but ignored what Vaughan and city councilmembers said about the tax rate, which they said should be near the revenue neutral rate.
Vaughan brought the City Council back to reality during the work session. She said, “It appears we are just going along to get along when there are some objections to this budget.”
She said, “The bottom-line is I’m not happy with the 11 cents.”
She added, “I think 11 cents is way too much for my appetite. I’d almost like the staff to go back to revenue neutral and start from that.”
Councilmember Hugh Holston agreed saying, “I’d be in favor of looking at a lower rate, revenue neutral plus maybe 2 cents or 4 cents.”
Each penny of the property tax rate brings in about $3.68 million in revenue. So suggesting that the property tax rate be brought down to two cents above revenue neutral would mean cutting over $33 million from Jaiyeoba’s proposed budget.
Even Councilmember Sharon Hightower said the 11-cent tax increase was too much for her and she suggested that the City Council put a hold on the proposed new general services department, which is just one of the many new expenses in the budget.
District 3 City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Justin Outling expressed concern about Vaughan’s suggestion that it didn’t make sense to add eight police officers when there were so many vacancies. Outling said increasing the police personnel budget would increase the money available for overtime.
Outling didn’t express concern about the enormous proposed property tax increase.