Forsyth County faced with tax increase after drop in property valuation

Forsyth County Manager Dudley Watts addresses members of the county commission during a budget briefing.

Forsyth County would have to raise taxes by 6.3 cents per $100 of valuation to make up for a loss of revenue from a projected 8.6 percent drop revenue in the overall valuation of property in this years reappraisal by the tax department.

That was the news delivered this morning by staff at an annual strategic planning session by the Forsyth County Commission this morning.

Without the 6.3-cent tax increase, Budget Director Rhonda Tatum said the county is looking at a $16.8 million budget gap.

"We don't have that in pens, pencils and paper anymore," she said

"You don't have it there. Say you save something in public health, it would affect revenue," she added, alluding to the state and federal matches that the county receives in that sector. "So that picture would be worse. And social services, if you say cut positions, you've got to cut twice as many positions to get one. So there is a big impact on what we're doing here."

County Manager Dudley Watts said staff conducted a review of non-mandated services that could be cut.

"We could cut staffing way down in libraries, we could cut the number of books that we're buying, but then you've got a not very good library," he said. "I think from y'all's perspective you'd rather just close that branch and make other branches stronger. So it will be that kind of a discussion."

Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt, part of the board's conservative Republican majority, suggested Watts look at creating an incentive program to encourage senior employees to retire to reduce payroll costs. Commissioner Bill Whiteheart, another conservative, said the news presents an opportunity to "reassess what public tax dollars are really for" and refocus on core services.

Commissioner Dave Plyler, a moderate Republican, suggested selling county assets to close the revenue gap.

"Tanglewood?" he asked.

A nervous gasp could be heard in the meeting room, followed by a brief moment of silence, and then the subject was quickly changed.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon, one of the board's two Democrats, acknowledged that the conservative majority calls the shots, but noted that Forsyth County has the lowest tax rate of any urban county in the state.

"This is a lot of pain, a lot of pain, if we don't have a tax increase," he said. "I think it's time for a modest tax increase."

Commissioner Walter Marshall, the board's other Democrat, suggested consolidating four high schools. He said Carver High School, Atkins High School, Walkertown High School and Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy — all of which are within 2.5 miles of each other — have a combined population of about 1,400 students. He estimated that the county would realize an immediate cost savings of $1 million.

Property values typically show a gradual increase between revaluations, Tax Director John Burgiss noted, but after the last revaluation in 2009 the foreclosure crisis slammed Forsyth County, along with the rest of the country, causing overall values to fall.

"I think I could have been working for 80 years and not see a reappraisal like this," Burgiss said.

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