Unmussig says 10% tax increase not likely for Cumberland

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, April 1, 2020

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Cumberland County citizens likely felt surprised at a recent public notice proposing a real estate property tax hike of 10%, especially since the county already sports property taxes significantly higher than its neighboring localities.

Don Unmussig

Cumberland County Administrator Don Unmussig, however, says that the number is likely a large overestimation.

According to the notice, the total assessed value of real property for the county, excluding additional assessments as a result of new construction or property improvements, exceeds last year’s total assessed value by 10.87%.

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The notice states that a tax rate which would levy the same amount of real estate tax the previous year prior to the reassessment would be 71 cents per $100 of assessed value.

As a result, the county’s notice proposes to adopt a tax rate of no more than its current rate of 78 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The difference between the lowered tax rate and the proposed rate would be 7 cents per $100, or 10%. This is known as an “effective rate increase.”

Because of the property reassessment, taxes would go up if the rate remained at 78 cents. A house valued at $100,000 in 2018 paid $780 in property taxes last year. That same house, if reassessed at $110,000, would pay $858 in taxes this year unless the tax rate is reduced.

It is noted that individual property taxes may, however, increase at a percentage greater than or less than the above percentage.

Based on the proposed real property tax rate and changes in other revenues, the total operating budget of the county will by 2.4% more than last year’s budget.

A public hearing on the increase is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, at 7 p.m. in the Cumberland Courthouse Circuit Courtroom, and a final budget approval will take place following the hearing. An April 14 public hearing has also been announced to consider the proposed tax levies for the calendar year beginning January 1, as well as the proposed budget estimates and Five-Year Capital Improvements Program for the fiscal years beginning July 1.

Donald “Don” Unmussig

Unmussig said he anticipates the actual tax increase to be much lower than the 10% number the county advertised recently.

“The outcome of the meetings on the 14th and 28th will result in a lower number,” Unmussig said.

He explained that the county is still working on the budget, but a public notice had to be sent out in order to meet a notification timeline requirement set by state code.

Unmussig described the 10% increase as a “worse case scenario.”

“It is easier to reduce the number published in the paper than to increase it,” he said. “I am sure some citizens were surprised, but it will all be straightened out at the two meetings in April.”

Even if the property tax increase is significantly less than 10%, it is clear any increase at all would be unsatisfactory for both residents and their supervisors.

“Well, I personally do not want a tax increase,” Cumberland County District 4 Supervisor Gene Brooks said. “I don’t know how we can get around that based on the reassessment, but it’s going to be hard for me to vote for a tax increase.”

Brooks acknowledged that one of the most common complaints heard by residents is the county’s property tax level, which is not comparable to nearby counties.

“Surrounding counties have industry to expand their tax base, and unfortunately Cumberland doesn’t, but we are working hard to get industry in this county.”

Brooks added the board of supervisors has been unable to meet as a group to discuss the subject due to concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, he had hopes for a phone conference or other ways of digital communication to allow more conversation on the matter.

District Five Supervisor Robert Saunders Jr. was also wary of increasing the property tax.

“I really don’t want a tax increase, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do,” he said.