By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer
Council votes for no change as decision goes to hearing
(May 14, 2020) The Berlin Town Council on Monday voted to stick with last year’s real property tax of 80 cents per $100 of assessed value as pursues its budget for the Fiscal Year 2020/21.
Despite being limited to less than 10 people in the actual Town Hall location, residents were provided 15 minutes to ask questions regarding the town real property tax rate.
According to Mayor Gee Williams, the council will be “cutting the general fund budget,” a major portion of which is dependent on property tax revenue.
“It’s being considered … we’re not doing anything [about the general fund] tonight,” he said. “The general fund budget is being considered for the new fiscal year at $5.9 million, that’s a reduction of $244,600 or 4 percent below the current budget.”
Williams also mentioned that this would be the third straight year the general fund budget would be decreasing.
Resident Marie Velong asked via Facebook Live messaging what the revenue difference would be if the property tax rate remains the same as last year, even though the town’s assessable base did increase in 2019.
Financial Director Natalie Saleh replied that the town would see an increase of about $153,000, or 4 percent more.
Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood said the town’s cash flow is going to be “significantly delayed or decreased” as a result of this pandemic, meaning the numbers originally estimated in the budget may not be what the town originally anticipated.
As a result of the pandemic, council member Zackery Tyndall recommended that the town reduce the rate to the state’s constant yield rate estimate of 78 cents per $100 of assessed value. The constant yield rate is the state’s estimate of what a jurisdiction would charge to bring in the same revenue in brought in the year before.
“If we can provide that little bit of economic relief, in a time where there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of things that people … just don’t know if they can [afford] sometimes … I would like us to at least take a serious look at the constant yield rate,” he said. “I think that it’s doable and people won’t lose their jobs, I don’t think any services would be cut.”
If the number was adopted, according to Tyndall, the results would have made a 2 percent decrease in property taxes “for the people of Berlin whole keeping the revenue of the town unchanged from last year.”
This suggestion, however, was not ideal for Fleetwood and Williams.
“We hear about all this financial relief [but] it does not affect small towns,” Williams said. “We are not part of that. We don’t get diddly. People pay more because the property values went up and they have to, by law, to appeal that. If they feel that the assessed value should go up, that’s between them and the county.
“We have to pay our bills,” he continued. “Holding the rate is responsible … we didn’t create the problem … but protecting Berlin is our commitment.”
The council voted in approval of the plan with a vote of 3-1, with Tyndall in opposition and Dean Burrell absent from the meeting.