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Reality Check: Buncombe County may collect more property taxes in coming year

The Buncombe County Commissioners are in the middle of putting together a new budget, and it could include the county collecting more in property taxes. County Manager Wanda Greene proposed spending $7 million more than the previous year. That is one reason for a possible tax increase, but Greene said there are other reasons, including a sale that never happened. The county bought the Ferry Road property in 2015 in the hopes of luring Deschutes Brewery to the area, but that deal fell through. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

The Buncombe County Commissioners are in the middle of putting together a new budget, and it could include the county collecting more in property taxes. County Manager Wanda Greene proposed spending $7 million more than the previous year. That is one reason for a possible tax increase, but Greene said there are other reasons, including a sale that never happened.

Rick Faulkner lives in Buncombe County, and, as an auto shop owner, he is a guy you see when things don't work. Right now, he's not sure if the county government is working for him.

"Just not knowing what's coming, you don't know what to plan for in the future," said Faulkner, who's lived here his entire life.

Because of property revaluation, he said his property value has gone up 20-30 percent. Now, he's waiting to see if his property taxes will also go up. Two county commissioners said they'll push to keep the tax rate as low as possible.

"We want the tax rate as low as possible and as close to revenue neutral as we can," Commissioner Ellen Frost said.

"There's a lot of areas that we all are still having to work on. I have to say that," Commissioner Mike Fryar said.

The property tax rate last year was 60.4 cents per $100 of property value. Because property values have gone up, a tax rate of 51.3 cents per $100 would bring the county the same amount. Green has proposed a tax rate of 55.9 cents.

Part of the equation involves what's across the street from Faulkner on Ferry Road. It's 137 acres of forest, and the land owns an even bigger history.

"The Ferry Road property was bought with the best of intentions. None of us would've had this scenario," Frost said.

"We have to be responsible for the people's money, and what we did was not responsible," Fryar said.

The county bought the property in 2015 in the hopes of luring Deschutes Brewery to the area. That didn't happen. Then the county tried to sell the property. It's still available for $6.8 million. However, in the last budget, Greene counted it as sold.

That prompted the question, "Is it common to count something as revenue that hasn't been sold?"

"If you plan to sell it, it is," Greene said. "If you had a house, and you planned to sell it, wouldn't you figure the proceeds from that house as you made your budget plan going forward for your next year? So, I think that it's not uncommon at all for it to be included."

Faulkner doesn't think any of it was a good idea.

"It doesn't seem right. It seems like they got ahead of themselves on some of this stuff before they knew for sure it was going to go through," Faulkner said.

Greene says the Ferry Road property has gotten too much attention in regards to the budget.

"What we need going forward really has very little to do with Ferry Road," Greene said.

"I'm totally confused. I'll be honest. I thought the issue was that because it was counted as revenue, and that money did not come in, now there's a $6.8 million hole," responded News 13's Aaron Adelson.

"We do have $6.8 million less revenue in 2018 from outside sources, and I have to cover that somehow -- whether it's revenues that are generated inside the county, somewhere else, or property tax. It's not the sole reason we have an adjustment in the tax rate," Greene said.

"It's one of?," Adelson asked.

"I'd say it's one of," Greene answered.

In the proposed 2018 budget, one penny of property taxes gives the county $3.6 million. So, the county could recoup the $6.8 million value of the Ferry Road property with about 2 cents worth of property taxes.

"Whatever the rate is, we ought to be able to be 2 cents less on the rate because of a mistake that the commissioners made that the public doesn't have to pick up," Fryar said.

"I think we have to dig deeper, be more exploring, before we say, 'Oh, because of Ferry Road we have to raise property taxes,'" Frost said.

Greene cautioned her proposal is a starting point.

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