MOUNT CARMEL - It came down to cutting services or increasing property taxes for the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday evening, and the majority of the BMA went with a 22 cent property tax increase.
With the countywide property value reappraisals last year Mount Carmel adopted the state's certified tax rate of $1.15 for 2006-07 - down from $1.37 - which was supposed to generate property tax revenue equal to the previous year.
But, according to Mayor Gary Lawson, the new certified tax rate actually lowered the town's overall property tax revenue for 2006-07 by about $60,000. Adding to the deficit are increases in the cost of fuel, insurance, utilities and paving, as well as a decrease in sales tax revenue due to the town's loss of its hardware store and some other businesses.
The town was looking to make up about $140,000 to balance this year's budget, which is also approximately how much raising the property tax rate back up to $1.37 would generate in new revenue.
Coincidentally, four "nonessential" services funded by Mount Carmel amount to $140,000 combined in the appropriation column of the 2007-08 budget. Those services include the public library, post office, senior center, and parks and recreation.
Lawson said it came down to cutting those services or increasing taxes.
"This is a bare-bones, no-frills budget, and those four departments are the only nonessential areas left to cut," Lawson told the Times-News following Tuesday's meeting. "On the one hand, I know our residents don't need a property tax increase. I don't want to pay more taxes either. But on the other hand do we really want to cut out thing like our recreation programs, senior center and library?
"I think our residents understand that the cost of everything is going up, and if we're going to maintain the same level of services we need additional revenue."
For a Mount Carmel home valued at $100,000, the 22 cent increase will increase their property tax bill by $55.
Two local residents spoke out against the property tax increase during a public hearing that preceded the BMA meeting.
Alan Cloyd, 176 Valley Crest Drive, suggested increases in other areas such as court fines and beer taxes. Cloyd noted that residential development in his neighborhood is booming right now, but he fears that with the town's tax increase combined with an expected county property tax increase, future home buyers will skip over Mount Carmel and move to Church Hill.
Actually the town doesn't have the authority to increase its court fines further, but it did increase court costs in a separate ordinance approved Tuesday evening. Acting town attorney Alan Coup, who filled in for Joe May Tuesday evening, noted that the town also doesn't have the authority to increase beer taxes.
"Where I work at they say they're scared to buy down here now because we're having a property tax increase, and the county, and that's going to hurt all of us," Cloyd said. "I'm a dad and a husband, and I work too, and all this money is going out - natural gas, gasoline, groceries, and I can't afford much more."
Janice Dean, 511 Carnation Lane, suggested that the BMA look at making more cuts. She specifically noted that the post office, which costs the town about $20,000 per year, could be cut.
The tax increase, as well as the 2007-08 town budget and sewer budget, were all given final approval Tuesday evening by the BMA. The only dissenting vote was cast by Alderman Carl Wolfe, who voted in favor of the two budgets but against the property tax rate.
"I didn't want to see it go up," Wolfe said after the meeting. "I know we needed it, but I just didn't want it. We're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't."