In a slight surprise, the Clark County Fiscal Court voted Wednesday not to raise the property tax rate for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
In its regular meeting, the Fiscal Court approved the second reading of the property tax rate but opted to maintain the 2011-2012 rate of 8.8 cents per $100 of assessed value instead of taking the compensating rate of 8.9 cents it originally considered two weeks ago.
At the previous meeting, the first reading passed with the 8.9-cent rate despite Commissioner JoEllen Reed voting against the measure.
Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham said he thought the court should consider the recommendation by Reed.
“It would send a good, gentle message to the taxpayers for the Fiscal Court to tighten our belts like we’ve asked (taxpayers) to,” Branham said. He also said property owners approached him, asking to keep a lower tax rate.
Reed reiterated her point from two weeks ago, saying she is still as concerned about raising the tax as she was then.
“I know it’s not a lot of money in difference, but people are struggling,” she said. “I am still in the same mindset. We need to leave it this year where it is.”
The change is not substantial for property owners. The difference between an 8.8-cent rate and an 8.9-cent rate is about $1 on $100,000 of assessed property value, a jump from $88 dollars per $100,000 to $89.
It’s a larger change for the Fiscal Court and its budget. By choosing not to take the compensating rate, the Fiscal Court’s projected real property tax revenue would drop by $22,187.
Branham said it was important for the court to address this loss of funds sooner rather than later.
“If we’re going to consciously set a rate that we know is going to be $22,187 less, to be responsible, we have to look at the expense side of our budget and address that loss of revenue,” he said.
Commissioner Rick Smith suggested holding a budget meeting to get reacquainted with the budget and look at where the money could be cut.
“I think we need to tighten up somewhere else,” Reed said. “I’m not real sure where that somewhere else is yet. I think we need to take a look again.”
County Attorney Bryan Thomas offered a helping hand, returning $10,000 from his fees account that would normally be used for the operation of his offices. This lowers the potential deficit to $12,187, which could be cut from the court’s salaries or discretionary funds, Branham said.
“My first recommendation is for it to come off our salaries,” he said. “I know to deal with that we have some state statutes to work around. There are some discretionary type funds I think we can go into. We hand out a lot of money to projects we’re not mandated to support.”
The court makes the decision to maintain a tax rate while other governing bodies are in the midst of raising taxes. The Clark County Board of Education on Tuesday raised its rate from 51.2 cents to 53.6 cents, and the Clark County Library Board of Trustees approved a .3-cent increase.
“For public programs, there is a pool of money in every community,” Branham said. “We as the Clark County Fiscal Court draw from that pool, and I think once you reach the high limit on that pool then you’re causing a hardship for property owners. The Fiscal Court, the school system, the state and the library, health and extension dip into that pool of money. We have to be cognizant of that.”
The court approved the 8.8-cent rate unanimously.
The Fiscal Court also voted to reject any and all bids for the construction of the Clark County Coroner’s Office. It also approved a measure that authorizes Branham to enter into a lease for a temporary facility. This allows the court to be more deliberate in designing a new building and getting a satisfactory bid for the construction, Branham said.
In other business, the Fiscal Court:
— Approved the reappointment of B.J. Wasson to the Winchester/Clark County Parks and Recreation Board.
— Approved the appointment of Travis Thompson to the Winchester/Clark County Board of Adjustments.
— Approved a change order for the courthouse lighting upgrade project. The project — funded by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — replaced the lights in the courthouse and installed sensors in rooms to turn off lights when unoccupied. The project could save up to 80 percent on energy costs, Branham said.