By Karen Bentley

I came to you earlier this year with a column outlining the process used for the county-wide reassessment of properties. Today, the tax assessor’s office is in the midst of reviewing more than 41,000 appeals. The rest of the story lies in the adopted tax rate set by county commissioners earlier this week. Your assessed value coupled with the new tax rate determines the size of your tax bill.

Tuesday evening, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioner passed our fiscal year 2012 budget by a 5-4 vote along party lines. While some media reports will spin this new tax rate as a tax cut, in reality it is a significant increase in taxes for residents of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson. The unnecessary increase in taxes to support increased spending were the primary reasons I voted against this budget but there were other concerns as well.

At that approved tax rate, 55.7 percent (179,954) households will have an increase in their property tax bill. Districts 1, 5 and 6 (all Republican districts) carry the bulk of this increase. For District 1, my district, 78.7 percent of residents in Huntersville, 77.5 percent of residents in Cornelius and 82.3 percent of Davidson residents will see their county property tax bill increase. The overwhelming majority of the communication I received from my constituents was to support a “revenue-neutral” budget.

Throughout this process, my goal was to mitigate as much as possible the impact of revaluation on property owners in District 1. My belief, based on economic history, is that increasing taxes in a down economy will only exacerbate the already fragile situation in Mecklenburg County. While some would say we are pulling out of this economic storm, I contend that to many people it feels as if the storm has settled in for a lengthier visit.

Take for instance the current housing market and data through March, released by Standard & Poor’s for its S&P/Case-Shiller(1) Home Price Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices. That report shows the U.S. National Home Price Index declined by 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2011, after falling 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. In March, 12 cities – Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Ore. and Tampa – fell to their lowest levels as measured by the current housing cycle.

Additionally, while we have seen an increase in the number of employed Mecklenburg County residents 2009, we remain significantly below our 2006 employment level.

So, now that the budget has passed, what will we get for our money? The biggest winners in this budget are Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (a $26 million increase), county employees, the Charlotte Mecklenburg library system and the county’s park and recreation department.

I am pleased that the threat of closing the Cornelius and Davidson libraries has disappeared. However the library system must get busy on a long-term strategy designed to adapt to the changing needs of its consumers in the context of constrained budgets.

Additionally, I am not convinced, based on hard data, that more money for schools results in greater academic achievement. Just take look at cities like Cleveland and Washington, D.C. I will remind the reader that even the Board of Education did not unanimously support the outrageous request by the superintendent and the board chair for an additional $55 million in funding from the county.

When one includes debt service, capital improvements and operating dollars, county taxpayers provide almost half a billion dollars to schools annually.

I encourage you to become engaged in local government. If I can be of assistance on county-related matters please contact me at karen.bentley@mecklenburgcountync.gov.

Karen Bentley is a Republican serving her third term as District I representative on the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners. She lives in Huntersville.