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Friday, May 16, 2014

The proposed property tax increase coming on Tuesday night

Insider Sources are telling us that the Bond Referendum being promoted by Hickory Inc. and the "Inspiring Spaces" folks is irrelevant. The Referendum is a vote on validation for Hickory Inc. to spend the money that they will already be accruing through the tax increase that they will have already approved on June 3rd. The wheels will have been set in motion and they are going to start spending millions of dollars on their "Linear Park"/Downtown Sidewalk whether that is what most Hickory citizens want or not.

The necessity to put this in the upcoming Fiscal 2014-15 Hickory City Budget is that, for one thing, Hickory Inc. needs money to help with the increased costs of operations, changing revenue streams, and problems with roads falling into disrepair that are Hickory Inc.'s responsibility. Hickory Inc. can't afford to come back next year and say, 'we need another tax increase for the "Linear Park".' This was also set up to happen this year, because it is a non-election year for the Mayor and City Council.

Remember that former City Council member Sally Fox wanted to raise property taxes last year, but Mayor Wright and Council Members Patton and Guess said no, claiming it was because there was no plan. The reality was that they didn't want to have to face the voters after having voted to raise taxes for this year. In reality, the plans are no more defined this year than they were last year.

The tax rate proposed by City Manager Berry is said to be at least 10¢ per $100 taking the tax rate from 50¢ to at least 60¢ per $100. A 10¢ increase in the tax rate is a 20% increase in your Hickory Inc. property tax bill. The median income house was defined as $151,000 in Hickory last year. A resident in Hickory based upon the median will see their tax rate in Hickory rise to $906 per year versus the current $755 -- a $151 increase. Add in Catawba County property taxes of 53¢ per $100 ($800.30 for the median) and that means that the total tax bill for the median house in Hickory will rise to $1,706.30.

The current median household income for Hickory is $37,364. Real median household income peaked in 2006 at $44,656 and is now $7,292 (16.33%) lower. That means the average family is earning $718.54 per week, so the average family is devoting nearly 2 1/2 weeks of their income to property taxes. The only reason I bring this up is to stress that this is a significant tax and decision. 

Once the rate is raised, then the revenue stream will have been established. We have seen this happen before. With the Stormwater runoff program, Hickory Inc. decided what it wanted to do and then put together a committee to attempt to get validation. When the committee came back against Hickory Inc.'s recommendation, the fund/monies had already been designated and set aside and Hickory Inc. moved forward with the program anyway.

Hickory Inc. is trying to separate the issues and get the public to focus on the referendum, while having already established the "Inspiring Spaces" program monies in the General Fund. When the Bond Referendum fails, then they will tell you that people didn't vote down the Bond Referendum, because they are against the Inspiring Spaces projects, they voted it down, because they are against going into debt to fund the projects. Hickory Inc. just needs to focus and scale back "on what the people want." And that will be their "Linear Park/Sidewalk."

On Tuesday night we will see City Manager Berry propose his budget for the upcoming year and then the Council will come back two weeks later and vote upon the budget. If the Citizens of Hickory don't want to see this go through as proposed, then they don't have much time to act. November 4th is not the important date on the calendar. The important date on the calendar is June 3rd. If this tax rate is allowed to pass as proposed, then there will be no turning back. That will be your tax rate from here on out.

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