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Commissioners approve tax rate decrease

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners approved several final changes to the county’s proposed 2021-22 budget Monday, including a 1-cent decrease in the property tax rate.

Commissioner John Rebholz recommended that the commissioners reduce the county’s fund balance within its general fund by an amount equal to 1% of the tax rate and transfer that money to the county’s general revenues. That amounts to $601,543.

With that change, pending approval of the final budget, the county’s property tax rate will drop from 63.5 to 62.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Part of the board’s fund balance management policy states that the county will aim to maintain an available fund balance in the general fund of 35% of budgeted general fund operating expenditures each year. The county estimates that its fund balance will be approximately 37.5% at the end of the current fiscal year.

“I understand that we are funding a reoccurring reduction in revenue with fund balance,” Rebholz said. “But the fund balance is well over the 35% target. You can’t forecast the future. It seems to me that it appears to be highly unlikely that the fund balance is going to be in major jeopardy.

“Having said that, I know we had a recommendation to do 3 cents,” Rebholz added. “I just think that’s probably beyond what’s responsible in terms of knowing what the future is going to hold. We need to grow the tax base in this county. We need to be able to keep young people here. We need to be able to allow business to flourish. And we need to take actions that’ll better match the output from our educational system with the needs of industry.”

Rebholz, Stan Deatherage, Hood Richardson and Randy Walker voted for the tax decrease. Frankie Waters, Ed Booth and Jerry Langley opposed it.

During a previous budget workshop meeting, Deatherage proposed a 3-cent tax rate decrease, but that motion failed. Deatherage made an identical proposal that would have added on to Rebholz’s proposal, making it a 4-cent decrease, but it failed again.

“Guys, you’ve got $34 million sitting there,” Richardson said Monday. “If you did the whole 4 cents, you’re talking about $2.5 million. It’s peanuts. Why are you as politicians so greedy that you don’t want to give it back to the people? It’s very easy if you need to take it back next year, so why not let the people have their money? As commissioner Deatherage said, they spend it much better than we do.”

County officials are working on adding the changes to the proposed budget. The commissioners will vote on the updated budget during a meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday night, at 136 W. Second St. in Washington​.