Settlement with schools could mean higher Union Co. property taxes

Settlement with schools could mean higher Union Co. property taxes

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by TONY BURBECK / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @TonyWCNC

WCNC.com

Posted on October 15, 2013 at 6:26 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 15 at 8:10 PM

UNION COUNTY, N.C. -- Thousands of Union County homeowners could end up with sticker shock on their next property tax bills.

County leaders say they might have no choice but to raise those taxes to pay Union County Public Schools and additional, court ordered $91 million after the district won a funding fight against the county last week.

No action has been taken yet and county leaders are looking at various scenarios, but one thing is clear: they can't make up 91 million through cuts in services alone.

"We don't have anywhere close to $91 million," said Jerry Simpson, chairman of the Union County Board of Commissioners.

The county is exploring several options they could potentially combine to come up with the money.

Simpson says preliminary numbers show the owner of a $150,000 home would pay an additional $400 a year in property taxes, and the owner of a $300,000 home would pay an additional $800 a year.

"A two-income household -- that both have good jobs and a growing family, that kind of thing -- they probably could find the money somewhere. It's those people on fixed incomes, some of our senior citizens that have been here many years that have homesteads and things like that, that really would be tough to take," Simpson said.

Torrie Jacobvitz worries about her parents and their home if they have to pay more.

"It just adds up and unfortunately it's going to keep hitting their pockets and make it to the point where it's even hard to own a home," Jacobvitz said.

The county is also exploring cutting non-essential services, like library and park funding, operating hours and upkeep. But, cutting services doesn't come anywhere close to finding $91 million.

"We're down to the bare knuckles of the services we provide now," Simpson said.

Borrowing money is also an option, but the county is pretty much already maxed out, Simpson said.

Dipping into millions the county generates from fees could put water line projects on hold.

The combination of low taxes and good schools helped prompt Union County's housing boom.

Simpson says higher property taxes could put the brakes on that.

"It's certainly, without question, would have an impact on development, and for real estate. No question," he said.

Some parents like Michell Thomas, with a son in high school, say that's the price people pay to live in Union County and keep good schools good.

"Some of the schools do need a lot of upgrading," Thomas said. "Somebody is going to end up with the bad end of the stick."

When it comes to possibly eliminating jobs, Simpson said that's something they'd have to take a long, hard look at before making any decisions.

Union County Public Schools argued in court it needed the additional money for school building repairs, including leaking roofs, unmet Americans with Disabilities Act needs, and safety and technology upgrades.

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