2 commissioners clarify a no-tax-increase pledge

YADKINVILLE As the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners continues budget workshops this week, two commissioners who signed a pledge not to raise taxes are trying to clarify their intent when they signed the pledge.

County Manager Cecil Wood has proposed a $30 million budget that maintains the tax rate at 68 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. But because property values generally increased under the recent revaluation, many residents are expected to see higher property-tax bills under the 2005-06 budget.

Commissioners Brady Wooten and Allen Sneed, who have been involved with the local branch of Citizens for a Sound Economy, signed a pledge generated by the group last year not to raise taxes. Citizens for a Sound Economy is a national group that advocates lower taxes.

Sneed said that if he voted for the recommended tax increase, he wouldn’t be betraying residents who voted for him based on his pledge. He said he’s against an increase in the tax rate, and that’s what he had in mind when he signed the pledge.

“I can’t help if somebody buys something and it goes up in value,” Sneed said at a county commissioners’ meeting last week. “I don’t have control over something I can’t be responsible for. I do have control over sticking my hand in the air and saying, ‘I’m going to raise taxes.'”

Wooten said that the pledge was worded vaguely and did not distinguish between a tax increase and a tax-rate increase.

“On the (pledge) that I signed, it didn’t say (tax rate), and it was not spelled out clear enough,” Wooten said. “I pledged not to raise the tax rate.”

But Peggy Boose, who is the coordinator for Citizens for a Sound Economy, said she “is on the fence” about the issue. It is another tight budget year, and the need in the county continues to increase, she said.

“They can do a revenue-neutral tax rate and not do anything for schools or water and sewer, or they can improve the schools and get water and sewer in and not reduce the tax rate,” Boose said. “Those are the choices they have.”

Dianne Doub, who is also part of the group, said that if one of the commissioners who signed the pledge votes for the budget with a tax increase, it would be a disservice to his supporters.

“Yes, I would look at it as a disservice (to the voters) because I hold a person to their word,” Doub said. “Since they signed the no-tax-increase pledge, I expect them to do the right thing.”

Wooten said he expected some criticism, but that wouldn’t deter him from supporting a budget that meets the county’s needs.

“Some of my opponents will say I’m violating the rule,” Wooten said. “Even with the budget that’s put in front of us, it’s less than a penny above revenue neutral. I have no problem with accepting the budget that has been given to us because it meets the criteria of the tax pledge.”

Wooten said he has considered pushing for a revenue-neutral rate, but did not say whether he would make a motion to that effect.

The revenue-neutral rate would be about 63 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. A revenue-neutral rate would keep the taxes the same for most people after revaluation.

Commissioner Kimberly Clark Phillips has publicly criticized the actions of Sneed and Wooten. She has said that signing the pledge was “irresponsible.”

“I think they overestimated the influence of the people who expected those pledges to be signed,” Phillips said. “I don’t think they represent the majority of the people in the county.”

Phillips said that a revenue-neutral rate is not feasible, and a tax increase is needed to maintain the current level of services in county departments.

“A tax cut can’t happen,” Phillips said. “I haven’t signed anything, and I’m worried about how we’re going do it. (The budget) is way worse than I thought it would be, and I anticipated it would be bad.”

Wood asked that departments cut expenses by 6 percent to help balance the budget. Department heads have been presenting their needs to commissioners during the budget work sessions.

Residents can attend the remaining work session, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 22 in the Human Resources Building.

• Titan Barksdale can be reached at 727-7369 or at tbarksdale@wsjournal.com