For the last three years, Guilford County government has been spending money on just about any idea that a county administrator or county commissioner has come up with.
The county has been handing out raises, adding employee benefits, expanding and adding departments, taking on new multi-million-dollar capital projects like the coming Sheriff’s Department’s headquarters, handing out money to local governments for water systems, community centers and other things – all while starting to pay back a massive $2 billion in school bond debt.
For the first two decades of this century – and presumably since the creation of the county in 1771 – county commissioners had to make hard choices about how money could be spent. However, for the last three years, the Board of Commissioners has been voting yes on virtually everything.
So, the question is: Where’s all that money coming from?
The short answer is that they are getting it from a lot of places but one place most importantly.
For one, the county received $104 million in the federal government’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds as well as countless other dollars and support from the federal government meant to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Another new stream of money is coming from the nationwide lawsuit that state and local governments brought against opioid makers and distributors. The county first anticipated that would mean about $20 million coming to Guilford County but it turns out the county will in fact receive over $39 million from that settlement.
The county is also collecting a lot of money in sales tax revenue. The long predicted recession hasn’t shown up yet and, according to a budget report earlier this year, sales tax revenues for Guilford County were up roughly 10 percent from the previous fiscal year.
Another source of money is the massive debt the county is taking on for the next two decades. In the last two years the county has begun issuing the first of that $2 billion in school bond debt that county voters approved.
The central source of new money, however – the one that gives the county commissioners the confidence to do everything they want to do – is what they get from county property owners.
The county implemented a revaluation of every piece of property in Guilford County in 2022 at a time when housing prices were skyrocketing. Instead of adjusting the tax rate to compensate for the increased property values – holding the county “revenue neutral” – the board kept the tax rate where it was, which was the equivalent of a historic 14-cent property tax increase.
Before the revaluation, county officials were predicting that it would bring in about $60 million in new money each year. Then they started using estimates of $70 million and then later predicted $80 million in new money from taxpayers due to the revaluation and the failure of the board to adjust the tax rate.
The actual number is now known and it turns out that Guilford County is collecting an extra $92 million a year in money in property taxes. That is a recurring amount of new money that the county collects each year over and above the property tax money the county had been collecting in previous years.