ROCK HALL — After about an hour of tossing around ideas for how to create a surplus in the fiscal year 2020 budget, as well as six budget workshops before that, the Rock Hall Mayor and Council on June 6 proposed a 2-cent tax increase.
If adopted, the new rate would be $0.34 per $100 of assessed value.
A public hearing on what was introduced as an emergency ordinance will be held 6 p.m. Thursday, June 27, in the municipal building, 5585 Main St. Immediately following the hearing, the council is expected to vote on the proposed tax increase.
It took an hour after Town Clerk Stephanie Loller introduced the idea of raising taxes for the council to justify to themselves that the increase will benefit everyone. With Vice President Beth Andrews making the motion and Councilman Timmy Edwards seconding it, the council unanimously approved introducing the increase.
In previous meetings, the council went through its budget line item by line item seeking ways to cut spending and save money.
This is the first budget cycle for Mayor Dawn Jacobs and council members Eleanor Collyer and Carolyn Jones, who were elected in May.
The mayor and council also choose to forgo benefits and salaries for a year to save money, something Edwards suggested.
Jacobs said the need to increase the surplus was the impetus for considering a tax increase.
Additionally, Rock Hall has not raised taxes for quite some time. Loller said this would be the first tax hike in her 17-year tenure.
To justify the increase, Collyer said the council needs to make it clear to the citizens that adding money to the surplus means making the town look healthier to a bank.
“Because there are going to be times when we have to turn to a bank,” Collyer said.
Andrews said a budget needs reserves to have a “healthy balance sheet and a healthy town.” Additionally, she said, the town’s line of credit was frozen by the bank because of concerns about the town’s finances.
She said that credit has since expired on its own, but the town will need to prove it is in good standing financially to reopen a line of credit.
”I think people would have, in my personal opinion as a taxpayer, I would have a problem if my taxes were being raised (for) something silly. To have clean water, safe streets, to make sure waste goes where it needs to go, I mean those are basic services that we’re talking about,” Andrews said.
Collyer said waiting another year to raise taxes could cause the council to lose momentum and support of what it is trying to accomplish with its wastewater treatment plant.
In a previous meeting, Vikki Prettyman of the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project Inc. reported on the deteriorating condition of the town’s wastewater treatment plant; her presentation included photographs.
“You know, even if it’s a penny or whatever followed by something, if we have a plan going forward and are saying, you know, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do in the first year. Here’s how we’re going to achieve this in the next five years,’” Collyer said.
Collyer also said the council should be transparent and list priorities to justify why taxes need to be increased.
Edwards agreed. He said Rock Hall citizens are “in the dark” and do not know what is going on with their town’s treatment plants.
Jones also said the town should be clear about what the council is “striving to do” and what specifically will happen with the money that is generated because of higher taxes.
At the June 6 meeting, David May, who is Andrews’ husband, said a 3-2 vote in February to raise water and sewer rates by an initial 15 percent with plans for incremental increases — Andrews and Edwards cast the dissenting votes — came “out of the blue.”
This time, he said, the council has been transparent about the needs of the wastewater treatment plant as well as how the money generated from the proposed property tax increase would be spent.