Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Residents in Macon County will see an increase on their tax bills this year as the Macon County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to raise the county’s tax rate from .374 to .40, increasing the county’s budget by $2 million to a total of $56,641,096. When Macon County Manager Derek Roland first presented his proposed budget for 2021-22, he proposed keeping the county’s tax rate of .374 flat with a budget totaling $54,641,096, however, during a budget work session on Thursday afternoon, after hearing from various departments about needs not included in Roland’s budget, Commissioners voted to increase taxes to generate an additional $2 million in revenue.
Commission Chairman Tate made the proposal to raise the county’s tax rate to an even .40 per $100 valuation to generate $2 million more annually. Tate proposed that $1 million be spent to provide the Macon County Public Library with $30,000 previously requested to boost salary for their employees, $25,000 for funding for the partnership with the Nikwasi Initiative, and $10,000 for Cowee School for infrastructure repairs. The remaining portion of the $1 million in funding will be placed in contingency to be spent as needed for pending capital projects such as refurbishing a building donated to Southwestern Community College; a property just purchased in Nantahala for a potential new community building; and to begin generating revenue to fund the costs associated with moving forward with construction of a new Franklin High School.
The other $1 million generated for the tax increase will address salary discrepancies for Macon County employees. The county is currently undergoing a countywide pay study which will see a nine percent average increase in salaries across the board to bring county employees up to fair market value. Currently, due to salaries not being competitive with neighboring counties, several Macon County departments have anywhere between 8-15 vacancies causing disruption in county services. The pay study, which was launched last year, will address the issue.
The vote to increase taxes passed 3-2 with Commissioners Paul Higdon and Josh Young voting against it. Young said he supported raising taxes for the $1 million associated with improving county employee salary, however could not vote for the full $2 million increase without more of a plan on how the funds would be spent.
In addition to raising ad-valorem taxes in Macon County, the Board of Commissioners also approved a tax increase for the Otto Fire District that will be used to build a new fire station. Otto Fire Department originally asked for a 5 cent increase to fund the new fire station — which is estimated to cost $5 million —however, commissioners voted to approve a smaller increase of .10 per $100 valuation.
The Burningtown Fire Department also requested a fire tax rate increase to generate an additional $12,000 a year for an increase in costs for operations such as fuel. However, Commissioners Paul Higdon, Josh Young, and Jim Tate voted against the request — denying the fire department the increase.