Ocean City Today
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Worcester County proposed tax hike to be advertised

Rate would cover projected $9 million budget shortfall
By Brian Gilliland | Apr 05, 2018

(April 6, 2018) Ahead of the expected June 5 adoption of the Fiscal 2019 budget, the county government must advertise any proposed tax rate that exceeds the state-calculated constant yield rate of 82.7 cents per $100 of a property’s assessed value.

The Worcester County Commissioners approved the advertisement on Tuesday, including a tax rate that would cover the entire budget as it stands now — with a gap of almost $9 million gap between revenues and expenditures.

To cover that difference, a tax rate of 88.6 cents per $100 assessed will appear in the advertisement, but it is unlikely to remain that high. For the past four years, the commissioners have adopted a rate at or near the constant yield figure, and have not increased taxes to cover a shortfall in the proposed budget.

The rate shown in the ad would be an increase of 5.9 cents above the current rate of 83.5 cents per $100 assessed value, which was set in 2015. The commissioners also increased the income tax rate that year, with the rate going from 1.25 percent to 1.75 percent.

The commissioners have only begun to review the proposed budget and have yet to make changes to the documents developed by department heads and staff.

The proposal will also be reviewed by the budget committee, which includes County Administrator Harold Higgins, Budget Manager Kathy Whited and Treasurer Phil Thompson. The committee will make changes to the proposals, which will then be reviewed by the commissioners.

Higgins previously said the goal of this new budget is to provide salary increases to staff. On a separate occasion, Higgins said he was aware of the commissioners’ goal of not raising property taxes. All seven commissioners are up for election this year, but only four have opponents.

Commissioner Bud Church will first face Gary Millhoff in the June 26 primary before the winner moves on to face Zackery Tyndall in the Nov. 6 general election. Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw faces Josh Nordstrom in November, Commissioner Chip Bertino faces Judy Butler and Commissioner Ted Elder faces Virgil Shockley.

The constant yield rate is the amount the government needs to charge taxpayers in order to achieve the same revenues year over year. Assessments in Worcester County increased by about one percent this year, so the constant yield rate was set by the state below the current tax rate of 83.5 cents per $100 assessed.

Just because the rate was set lower, or even when it’s set higher, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a tax hike or rate cut. The commissioners set the final rate in June.

A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. at Snow Hill High School.

There was some discussion about moving the site of the meeting to the north end of the county initiated by Ocean City Commissioner Joe Mitrecic. Mitrecic said in the past the hearing was moved between the north and south ends of the county on alternating years.

The idea was not approved for this year because of time constraints, but the county agreed to examine the issue next year, despite county staff’s assertions that the location had little impact on attendance.

“It’s like they want to move the county seat to Ocean City,” Pocomoke City Commissioner Lockfaw, only half-jokingly, said.

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