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Watts would keep real estate tax rates same

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Public may offer input on Sept. 24

By Randy Patrick

New growth would add nearly $300,000 to the county’s tax revenue if the Nelson County Fiscal Court keeps its real estate rate the same as this year’s, as Judge-Executive Dean Watts is proposing.

County Treasurer Rhonda Fenwick presented the state’s tax assessment estimates and possible rates at the regular meeting Tuesday. She and Watts are suggesting the real estate rate remain 14.3 cents per $100 of assessed property value on real estate. That would produce an estimated $3.5 million for the 2018 fiscal year that began July 1 of this year.

Combined with other kinds of property taxes, such as those on distilled spirits and vehicles, the county would receive $5.1 million in total.

Fenwick mentioned that those taxes are the county’s largest source of income.

“The budget for the current year is based on 14.3,” she said.

Last year the Fiscal Court also voted to keep the same rate.

Counties can set their taxes at any rate they want, but the state Department for Local Government suggests three benchmarks. There is the compensating rate, which is the rate at which the county would bring in about the same amount as the year before. For Nelson County, that would mean lowering the rate to 14 cents per $100 ($1.40 per $1,000) this year. Anything higher than the compensating rate requires a public hearing, even if the county doesn’t change its rate at all. If the county sets its rate at an amount that brings in 4 percent more in revenue than the year before, there would be a possible referendum on the ballot in the next election.

“Anything above four is subject to recall,” Fenwick said.

Keeping the real estate and other property tax rates the same as this year would generate an estimated $294,995 more for the 2018 fiscal year.

Property in Nelson County is currently assessed at more than $2.6 billion, and assessments grew by more than $64 million.

“That’s not a lot of money,” Watts said, explaining that in recent years the growth has often been more than $100 million annually.

Some county magistrates weighed in on the proposal after the meeting.

Keith Metcalfe, who represents New Haven and the southern part of the county, said he will probably go along with keeping the rate the same, but he would not want to increase it.

Magistrate Sam Hutchins said he too would probably go along with the proposal.

Jeff Lear, the lone Republican on the court, said he too would probably support the proposal, although he wants to “go back and deconstruct it” because he never trusts the state’s calculations.

“I go through it every year and shake my head,” he said.

While he doesn’t want to raise taxes, the county needs more revenue for increasing expenses, he said.

“It’s been my experience that with new growth comes new expenses, and if you can keep the rate the same or lower, I have no problem with that,” he said.

Because the state got the county its tax information about two weeks later than it usually does, the Fiscal Court must have several meetings in a short time before the tax bills are printed by the Sheriff’s Office in September.

At their next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 8, the magistrates will discuss the options and decide on the rates. A public hearing is planned for Thursday, Sept. 24.