Harrisburg tax increase possible

Harrisburg town council members on June 23 might adopt a budget that includes a two-percent tax increase for the town's general fund and a two-percent increase for the town's fire district tax.

Town officials recently told county commissioners the fire tax increase is needed to maintain the level of service to residents outside town limits. Cabarrus County commissioners on June 20 were expected to vote against raising the fire tax, which means the decision whether to adopt an increase falls back on the council.

Town administrator Michelle Reapsmith said the impact of the commissioners' decision could detrimentally affect the town.

"We want to continue to provide service to inside and outside residents at the same level, but it is imperative that they share the costs of the service equally," said Reapsmith.

"If we are not able to get the two cents from county residents, then the municipal residents will have to subsidize their fire protection costs."

The fire tax increase for Harrisburg rural areas would be a 2-cent per $100 valuation increase. It would add more than $135,000 to the district's $500,000-plus annual general budget, said Reapsmith.

"If (the county commissioners) turn us down, they're going to turn us upside down," said Reapsmith . "Our fire department is going to be $135,000 short and, somehow, I'm going to have to figure out how to make up for that shortfall. Whether it is personnel or service cuts, I have to make it up somewhere."

If both two-cent tax increases get adopted, the rate would go from $.20 per $100 valuation to $.24 per $100 valuation, which equates to about a $40 annual increase on a $200,000 home, but is $.18 less than Concord's tax rate. The funds would help maintain town services, such as brush and limb pickup and junk trash pick up, as well as help protect jobs in administration and other departments.

"This budget is much more challenging than 2010 and 2011...," said Reapsmith.

"We are at the point where more cuts are almost impossible, especially in the fire services area. My board has some tough decisions to make, and I can only pray that we are able to persuade the county to support Harrisburg and its request."

Members of the town council chose to wait for the county's official decision before adopting any increases. At the June 13 meeting, three of seven council members were in favor of a two percent increase in the town's general fund while some suggested other measures, such as a half-cent or one-cent increase.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Phillips said a two-percent increase in the general fund and the fire district tax are crucial.

"We've cut as much as we can without affecting town staff and residents and the services we provide our residents," he said. "If we don't go the two and two, our services will be jeopardized."

Phillips said the hike also will help make up for population growth. The town grew from 4,400 people in 2000 to 11,526 in 2010.

The rate increase also is a proactive and precautionary one, said Phillips, adding the town could easily be forced into a deficit trying to pay for unforeseen truck maintenance, or minor and major disasters, such as Charlotte's recent sinkhole on Runnymede Lane or tornadoes in Raleigh and nearby.

"We haven't had a general-fund tax increase in 11 years, and, in fact, we had a decrease of one cent five years ago," said Phillips. "Unfortunately, we need something to stay afloat, or staff and services will be cut."