County to see property tax revenues decrease

Official: housing market ‘stagnant’

By Andy Winemiller -

LOWGAP — Local officials told county commissioners they will see a slight decrease in property tax revenues in the coming fiscal year.

Surry County Tax Administrator Michael Hartgrove also told commissioners the area hasn’t exactly bounced back from the Great Recession.

At a day-long planning retreat, Hartgrove submitted figures indicating the county will see the value of real property rise by about $2 million as the result of a revaluation currently under way.

In the current fiscal year, Hartgrove’s figures show $4,201,631,817 in real property value. However, that $2 million increase in value and a $1 million increase in personal property value in the county won’t make up for the nearly $15 million and $19 million decreases in the respective values of business personal and public service property in the county in the next fiscal year.

In the end, it will mean a $20 million to $30 million decrease in taxable property and a decrease in property tax revenues of $116,400 to $174,600, according to Hartgrove.

In a subsequent interview, Hartgrove indicated the situation might not be as bad as the figures presented at the meeting, explaining it was better to underestimate the revenues commissioners will consider when budgeting than to overestimate.

Hartgrove said the N.C. Department of Revenue, which handles valuations for the business personal category of property, began figuring mobile phone infrastructure such as cell phone towers into the numbers. The decrease in revenue from $204.6 million to $185 million is due to the speedy depreciation of that sort of property.

Hartgrove said he has no numbers on which he can base estimates of depreciation for the cell phone infrastructure. Thus, he erred on the side of caution.

The county’s new finance officer, Sarah Bowen, did indicate sales tax dollars could make up for the decrease, as that revenue stream has seen an increase of a little more than 1 percent this fiscal year. If the trend continues, the number could mean nearly $157,000 in additional revenue.

While Hartgrove brought no strikingly exciting or concerning data before commissioners, the conversation did eventually lead to a discussion which concerns all Surry County residents — the economy.

“We are in a stagnant period as far as the real estate market,” remarked Hartgrove in answering a question. “We have held our own.”

“When I started in this business, you could count on a 12- to 15-percent increase every four years (at revaluation),” explained Hartgrove, but that simply doesn’t happen any longer.

Commissioner Larry Phillips asked Hartgrove if he felt Surry County had enough affordable housing available to its residents.

“I can’t say yes or no,” answered Hartgrove. “Most of the home sales we see are in the $85,000 to $125,000 range.”

Commissioner Van Tucker inquired as to how rural areas have bounced back from the recession.

“I’d say right now it’s stable,” said Hartgrove.

Hartgrove did indicate there have been 600 additional businesses established in the county throughout the course of the past year or so, and 200 jobs have been created.

However, Hartgrove also said the county is still feeling the affects of the textile industry largely leaving the area.

“We lost $500 million in business personal property when the textile industry left,” Hartgrove told commissioners.

The loss equates to about $2.9 million in property tax revenues at the county’s 58-cent property tax rate.

Official: housing market ‘stagnant’

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and can be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and can be reached at 415-4698.

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