York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell certainly couldn’t be described as a tax-and-spend, big-government advocate. He calls himself a taxpayers’ watchdog.
Yet he sees a need for the proposed property tax increase considered by the County Council last week. So does Councilman Curwood Chappell, who also has opposed many a tax increase in the past.
“Most people want big service and low taxes,” he said at Monday night’s meeting. “Today, that’s an impossibility.”
Some councilmen, including Bruce Henderson and Joe Cox, oppose any increase. But the support of Blackwell and Chappell indicates that the proposal, which has the blessing of county staff, is not a bloated wish list.
Under the proposed increase, residents could pay close to $6 more per year on a $20,000 vehicle and nearly $20 more on a $100,000. That is a significant jump compared to last year’s increase, which amounted to only $6 more annually on a $100,000 home.
Nonetheless, the proposed increase should be kept in perspective. An increase of $26 is less than a dinner for two at most restaurants.
The county is coping with rising demand for services and the rising cost of providing those services. Those cost increases come at a time when the state Legislature has proposed reducing state contributions to local governments.
The county’s tax increase plan also is designed to cover heavy capital costs and unanticipated expenses down the road. And county officials hope to avoid dipping into reserves, saying that the county would exhaust its reserve funds within five years if they were used to cover additional operational costs.
The county hasn’t used reserves for that purpose in the last three years.
And the county staff notes that the taxes won’t be used for extravagent purposes. For example, county departments have requested more than 40 new staff members, 20 of whom were requested by the York County Sheriff’s Office. But the proposed budget would fund only six new hires.
Four approved positions would be detention officers.
One area, however, where the council might find some flexibility is in the proposal to give staff a 3 percent raise adjusted for inflation. Employees received a 1 percent raise last year.
County employees undoubtedly deserve a raise after the lean years of the recession. But even if the proposed raise were reduced by half a percent, that could make a considerable difference in the overall cost to the county and perhaps reduce the amount of the tax increase.
As noted, though, the tax increase proposed by the staff is not an exorbitant one. If residents want prompt, reliable, efficient service from the county, they need to pay for it.