The Henderson County website is currently displaying this lovely graphic on its homepage.
Let’s start with things I like. First, I’m a fan of charts and graphs. I think they can be a great way to communicate complex and potentially dry information. And let’s be honest, property taxes aren’t the most exciting subject in the world. So that’s good.
I also like that they’re trying to show what the taxes are going to be used for. It’s taxpayers’ money, after all, so it’s right that the County tells those taxpayers how the money will be allocated.
And I like that it’s on the homepage. It’s not buried somewhere fifteen clicks in. It’s right there on the homepage for everyone to see. So far, so good.
But see that table at the top? Zero percent change in the tax rate over ten years. That’s where the problems start.
That table is misleading. It’s not inaccurate, but it’s selective and incomplete information. What actually happened is that, in June, County Commissioners approved a 5 cent property tax increase, bringing the Henderson County rate up to $0.565 per $100 valuation. This is the actual graph of Henderson County property tax rates over the last ten years.
So while it’s the same rate as ten years ago, it’s a huge increase over last year. And it’s an even larger increase than six years ago.
The County may be somewhat disingenuous in their rhetoric about this tax increase, but the Hendersonville Lightning was not.
The tax increase would cost the owner of a $300,000 a year an additional $150 a year.
The new tax rate of 56½ cents per $100 valuation would produce an estimated $71.57 million in fiscal year ’16-17.
“That represents a 10 percent increase, which would generate $6.4 million,” [Commissioner Bill] Lapsley said. “I will vote no on this motion.”
I don’t know all the ins and outs of Henderson County’s financial situation. I don’t know why they were able to make such big cuts nine years ago. I don’t know how things have changed for the County since then. But I do know a little bit about personal finances and family budgets. And I know that an additional 5 percent hurts. How that rate compares with ten years ago isn’t nearly as relevant to taxpayers as how it compares to what they paid last year.
Ten years ago, we’d not yet experienced the great recession. The economic picture has changed in the last decade. People are in very different situations than they were. Henderson County has bills to pay and services to provide. I get that. But they, like all local governments, should be more honest and transparent with their citizens.
So, Henderson County, if you think you need to raise property taxes, and by a significant amount, don’t try to hide it behind some chart showing that it’s the same as ten years ago. That just breeds distrust and cynicism. Don’t try to make it seem like this isn’t really a big deal because, hey, folks were paying that a decade ago.
Five percent matters. It affects real taxpayers, real families, in a meaningful way. Better to be honest with taxpayers about the increase and why you think it’s necessary than to try to claim it isn’t really a big deal. Taxpayers deserve better.