Greensboro property owners are going to pay more property taxes next year following action by the City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, April 18.
It’s confusing, but by voting 8 to 1 not to increase the property tax rate of 63.25 cents, the City Council effectively voted to increase property taxes by about 2.11 cents. That will result in about $5.7 million in additional revenue for the city, so property owners will pay about $5.7 more in property taxes.
City Councilmember Mike Barber cast the lone vote against keeping the 63.25-cent property tax rate, which in effect raises taxes.
It might sound like keeping the property tax rate the same would not raise taxes, but this is a year when property reevaluation by Guilford County goes into effect. Since the value of property increased, in order to keep taxes the same, the city would have had to lower the tax rate to what is called the “revenue neutral” tax rate.
In the past, when property was reevaluated, cities and counties would get a good bump in revenue by keeping the rate the same and claiming they had not raised taxes. In 2003, the state legislature mandated that cities and counties notify the public of the “revenue neutral” tax rate.
Revenue neutral is the rate that would bring in the same amount of revenue as if reevaluation had not occurred. The revenue neutral rate takes into account property that was annexed, new construction and other activity that result in increased tax revenue, but not the increase in property value, which comes with a revaluation.
At the revenue neutral rate, the average property owner would pay the same amount in taxes as they had paid the previous year. Some would pay more if the value of their property increased more than the average for the city, and some would pay less if their property value increased less than the average, but in effect property owners would pay the same amount as they had paid the previous year.
The final figures aren’t in for the revenue neutral tax rate, but according to the city finance department, the current estimate is that it is 61.14 cents.
The revenue neutral rate of 61.14 cents means that keeping the tax rate at 63.25 results is an effective tax increase of 2.11 cents. The revenue neutral figure is an estimate but it is not likely to change significantly.
So, on Tuesday night, the City Council did what it has said that it wasn’t going to do – it raised taxes by about 2.11 cents.
Most of this increase will go to pay for the bond money that is going to be spent. City Manager Jim Westmoreland said that spending bond money at the rate that had been considered would require a tax increase of about 1.75 cents, and additional money was also needed to increase employee compensation. This City Council previously passed a motion to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour.
Barber didn’t comment during the meeting on the motion by Councilmember Justin Outling not to raise the effective tax rate from 63.25 cents. But after the meeting, when asked why he voted against not raising the tax rate, Barber said, “Because I understand what revenue neutral means. This council just voted for a tax increase, but I didn’t.”
After the meeting, Outling said that he understood that keeping the same tax rate effectively raised taxes but that their had been talk by councilmembers of raising the property tax rate, which would have been even more of burden on property owners and he wanted to have councilmembers on record opposing a tax rate increase.
So this year the taxpayers of Greensboro will receive a stealth property tax increase. The rate won’t increase but you will pay more in taxes. It really doesn’t matter what the City Council calls this tax increase because the result will be that the property owners will pay more property taxes and the city will receive more property tax revenue. If that isn’t a tax increase then what is it?
For the City Council not to raise taxes it would have to pass a budget with a tax rate of about 61.14 cents. And since the City Council has instructed Westmoreland to present a budget with a tax rate of 63.25 cents, there is no chance that Westmoreland is going to ignore the direction of the City Council and keep taxes flat on his own.
Greensboro, the third largest city in the state, currently has the highest tax rate of any comparable city in the state, and this tax increase will assure the city of staying at the top of the tax rate heap.
Charlotte, the largest city in the state, has a tax rate of 47.87 cents.
Raleigh, the second largest city, has a property tax rate of 41.83 cents.
Durham, the fourth largest city, has a tax rate of 56.07 cents.
And Winston-Salem, now the fifth largest city – having recently been passed by Durham – comes closest to Greensboro with a tax rate of 58.50 cents.
It’s worth noting that three of the fastest growing major cities in North Carolina – Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham – all have tax rates lower than Greensboro’s. And with the action of the City Council on Tuesday, that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.
City Councilmember Sharon Hightower argued for a tax rate increase in addition to the stealth tax increase but didn’t get any support from other councilmembers.