Currituck raises tax rates to fund schools, public safety equipment

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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For the first time 27 years, according to longtime commissioner Owen Etheridge, the county is increasing its tax rates.

Taxpayers will see a 10-cent increase in the ad valorem tax, making the countywide rate $0.56 per $100 of assessed value.

This means that a $200,000 property will result in a $1120 tax bill, an increase of $200 from last year. A $500,000 property will see a $2800 bill, or a $500 increase.

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Major reasons for the tax increase are to fund education construction costs and school resource officers, and to supply the public safety departments with much-needed updated equipment and vehicles.

Currituck commissioners approved a total net annual budget for fiscal year 2024 of $121,462,685, up 16% from last year.

According the last census, Currituck County is home to about 31,000 year round residents, but it is currently ranked as the second fastest growing county in the state. From 2010 to 2020, Currituck experienced a 20% population increase.

This growth has led to an increased demand for public services including schools, police and fire, and the county is the only government entity to provide these services, unlike Dare County that shares the responsibility amongst its municipalities.

The planned Tulls Creek Elementary School has a price tag between $55-60 million, according to county manager Ike McRee. The 2024 budget includes a first-year debt service payment of $3,190,345 that will continue for 20 years.

Based on the tragic school violence throughout the nation, the county is adding six additional fully equipped school resource officers for the elementary schools and one deputy sheriff position with a patrol vehicle to allow for backup at a total cost of $765,225.

The budget allots the Currituck County Sherriff’s Office with $842,103 to purchase and equip 11 patrol vehicles and five patrol SUVs. McRee said these are “badly needed because our rolling stock is getting older and more expensive to maintain.”

Another $810,000 was approved for two ambulances to update the older fleet and because of a significant uptick in EMS service call requests. The county also approved money for land for a potential new EMS station.

The budget calls for $1 million for the purchase of a four-wheel drive engine that will be based at Carova Beach Volunteer Fire Department, and future budgets will include a piece of apparatus “until our stock is what it should be” said McRee.

“We have not increased the rate of fire apparatus purchase in this county in years,” commissioner Paul Beaumont said. “The average fire apparatus has now gone from $270,000 … to $720,000 and take anywhere from one to two years to purchase and get into this county. We have kicked it down the road because we didn’t want to raise taxes for the purchase of apparatus and we find ourselves anywhere from eight to 13 pieces of apparatus behind schedule now. You’re going to pay me now or you’re going to pay me later but sooner or later that equipment has to be purchased.”

“Ten cents is hard for me to stomach but there is no alternative out there,” said commissioner Selina Jarvis. “It is up to us and our citizens to keep this county going forward … but at the end of the day this board is partly responsible for the need for new schools so we need to step up and pay for what we’ve approved.”

Commissioner Bob White said a need for a new school “was always coming” but a strong economy plus the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need.

“If you wait to change your oil after your engine blows up, it’s too late to change your oil. That’s what we’re trying to do in this county for the first time since I’ve been a commissioner. What are we doing? What do we need to pay attention to? … It’s a tough pill to swallow, it’s 10 cents in one year, but … we haven’t raised taxes and so you can only wait so long and then it’s going to catch up to you.”

Commissioners approved the budget unanimously at the June 19 meeting.