By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • The Hoke County Board of Commissioners plans to cut property taxes from 75 to 73 cents per $100 valuation as part of the county manager’s recommended budget.
County manager Letitia Edens presented a draft of the budget to the board members Monday night, sketching out in broad terms where taxpayer money will go in the 2022-23 fiscal year. The balanced budget isn’t approved yet, and has a long way to go before the board will vote on it. Commissioners will be meeting this week and next week to hear budget presentations from county department leaders, the school system, the sheriff’s office and various other county-funded agencies. During the budget process the commissioners will have the opportunity to tweak funding: adjusting, adding or removing items, as long as the budget remains balanced.
Although the board won’t formally vote to approve a budget ordinance for some time yet, four out of the five board members verbally acknowledged during the meeting this week that they support approving a budget that will lower taxes.
Commission Vice Chairman Tony Hunt said that he wanted to clear up any miscommunication about the county’s plans for the property tax rate, that may have been put out into the community.
“I want to make something clear, I hope someone will report this…I was told that there were some folks out at the debate or meet-and-greet that were broadcasting that the county was preparing to raise taxes. I am glad that the manager has put this budget out of what her intentions are, and certainly I know it is my intention of the tax rate actually going down,” he said. “Hopefully that will stop some of the miscommunication that people that are very uninformed about what’s going on in Hoke County, and if they just ask the right people, they could get the information that they need.”
Hunt pointed to the county’s growth, and the recent revaluation, which the vice chairman described as part of the reason Hoke is able to propose lowering taxes.
“All our citizens that have been here long enough, they know where we’ve been, they know where we’re at, and I’m glad that our manager has brought up another balanced budget, and with our [revaluation], that we’ve been able to lower our tax rate to give our citizens some relief,” Hunt said.
Commissioner Harry Southerland, Commissioner James Leach and Chairman Allen Thomas also voiced support for the tax rate cut.
“That’s real key because one of the concerns citizens always have is whether we’re going to raise or decrease taxes. I’m happy to go on record with Commissioner Hunt, I’m supporting that we reduce taxes,” Southerland said.
Leach commented on Edens and county staff’s work on the budget.
“I think she’s done a good job her and her staff, certainly I’d like to thank her and her staff for coming through on the budget and finding savings for Hoke County citizens,” he said. “As you present this budget to the board of commissioners tonight, it now belongs to us to go in and do what we it is that we have to do.”
Commission Chairman Allen Thomas also thanked the finance team and said cutting taxes was a big deal for the county.
“Like Mr. Leach said, now is our turn to take a look at it as we go through the deliberating process, having all these budget meetings with our departments,” Thomas said.
“Not only are we cutting the taxes, we’re also going to have enough revenue to fund the James Leach Aquatic Center, we’re going to have enough funding to pay for this school project, this high school project that we’ve already committed to with the school system. And we’re looking at other things that we’re going to do,” he continued. “We’re doing our best to make sure that we utilize the money that people provide us in the most professional way possible. This is a proud moment for us, to be in this position.”
Commissioner Lonnie Baldwin likewise thanked Edens for preparing the budget.
“I would like to extend an outstanding job to our county manager, she’s supportive at all times and we couldn’t ask for a better county manager,” he said.
Edens briefed commissioners on a few of the highlights of the proposed budget. The draft budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year came out to a total of just over $64.3 million. The first draft includes a five percent cost of living pay increase for county employees, Edens said.
For Hoke County Schools, local funding for current expenses is calculated at $625 per student with an estimated 9,500 students, for a total of about $5.9 million. The capital outlay would be about $1.2 million.
Although not noted in the capital outlay budget, the county has also committed to providing upwards of $28 million in matching funds to accompany about $40 million in needs-based school construction grants from the state. All together it would give Hoke County Schools around $78 million for the school system’s plan to expand the Hoke High campus. County leaders have not said what funding sources they will use for the $28 million local contribution.
In the Hoke County Enterprise Funds, which are intended to be self-sustaining through water and sewer bills and fees – public utilities will receive $8.3 million and solid waste will receive $4.5 million.