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By Wesley Young | Journal Reporter

Published: May 27, 2009

Forsyth County commissioners are set to approve a tax rate of 67.4 cents Thursday, although the vote is likely to split 4-3.

The conclusion of budget discussions today found Commissioners Beaufort Bailey, Ted Kaplan Walter Marshall and Gloria Whisenhunt in favor of a tax rate that includes an extra 1.1 cents on the tax rate.
That extra money will pay for servicing the debt on bonds the voters approved last November for Forsyth Technical Community College.

The new tax rate would actually be lower than the current rate of 69.6 cents for every $100 of a property’s value. Because of revaluation, the board could have decided to drop the tax rate to 66.3 cents and to maintain essentially the same tax levy as at present.

The commissioners who are likely to vote against the budget Thursday —Debra Conrad, Richard Linville and Dave Plyler, the board chairman — pushed for a budget that would eliminate or greatly reduce the need for a tax-rate increase relating to bond debt.

“When a man’s pockets are empty you can’t ask him to pay any more,” Plyler said.

Whisenhunt said she was torn but that the responsible decision for the board was to include the extra money for bond debt payments.

“The bonds have to be paid for, folks,” Whisenhunt said. “Everybody knows these are hard times but we need to be responsible.”

Assuming commissioners vote Thursday as they said they would today, the split won’t follow party lines: Whisenhunt, a conservative Republican, will be aligning with the board’s three Democrats, and Plyler, usually considered a GOP moderate will be voting with the more conservative Republicans Conrad and Linville.

Marshall and Whisenhunt, who had clashed only days ago on school maintenance issues, today joked about how they were on the same side during the tax-rate discussion. Marshall said it was the first time he’d agreed with Whisenhunt so early in discussions, and Whisenhunt told him that “miracles occur.”

Commissioners in the tax-rate minority made several proposals that would have reduced or eliminated the 1.1-cent increase. The plans revolved around coming up with $1.1 million and putting that money aside for the first year of debt service. The board would then have to revisit the issue next year and come up with more money for debt service.

By contrast, the plan the board is likely to approve would impose a one-time rate-increase of 1.1 cents that would cover the entire life of the debt.

Conrad said next year could see an improving economy that would allow the board to put in the long-range debt-payment plan.

Conrad proposed keeping the tax rate at 66.3 cents by cutting about $550,000 from the schools, cutting about $39,000 from Forsyth Tech and dipping into the county’s fund balance to find about $530,000, along with smaller cuts totaling about $32,000.

Linville put forward two ideas in an attempt to find a compromise. In the first, Linville proposed a tax rate of 66.4 cents — a 0.1-cent increase — with a cut of only $100,000 to the schools. Along with about $530,000 from the fund balance, Linville’s first proposal called for increasing estimated sales tax revenues by $150,000.

Linville brought forward a second proposal later in the morning to the still-divided board. This time, Linville proposed taking $857,000 from the fund balance and increasing estimated sales tax revenues by $200,000. Linville’s second proposal had no tax increase.

Wesley Young can be reached at 727-7369 or at [email protected]

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