Watauga's tax rate NC's fourth lowest
by Kellen Short
At $0.313 per $100 of value, Watauga County's rate is higher than only Macon, Jackson and Carteret counties, the study shows. It's one step up from last fiscal year, when Watauga ranked fifth.
"I'm pretty pleased to be fourth - I'd rather be first," said Nathan Miller, chairman of the Board of Commissioners."
"With our low tax rate, we've been able to keep taxpayers' money in the taxpayers' pocket, so they can use that to stimulate growth through buying of goods and services or investing that money in the local community."
Part of the reason Watauga County is able to maintain lower-than-average tax rates is because of the higher-than-average property values in the resort area, said county Finance Director Margaret Pierce.
Pierce said she felt the services provided by the county with that tax income were both numerous and good quality. She said that Watauga County chooses to provide parks and recreation, the Project on Aging and a county-run vehicle tag office, despite not being required.
"They're getting a level of services that I hope they would see in bigger cities and bigger counties," Pierce said.
But tax rates often change when counties undergo revaluation, as Watauga County is currently preparing to do.
As counties approved their budgets for this fiscal year, 20 approved a tax increase, 10 lowered their rates and 67 adopted the same tax rate or the revenue neutral rate for those who went through revaluation, according to research analyst Julie Hochsztein of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.
Three adopted interim budgets, so tax information was not immediately available.
Of the 12 counties that underwent revaluation, 10 had a revenue neutral rate higher than the previous year's rate, meaning property values had gone down since the last revaluation, the NCACC found.
The revenue neutral rate refers to the rate that would bring in the same amount of income, despite the changes in property values.
While counties must publish their revenue neutral rates after revaluation, they are not required to adopt that rate.
Miller said it's his intention to keep the rate the same -- or lower it -- regardless of what revaluation reveals.
"Until I know what the 'reval' does, though, there's really no way to know, but I'm hoping to keep it the same," he said.
Watauga County's rate last changed in 2006, when it dropped from $0.395. That was also the year that it last conducted a revaluation.
The survey also compared N.C. Department of Revenue figures to show that 70 counties have assessment-to-sales ratios higher than 100 percent. The ratio signifies that properties are selling for less than their assessed value.
Watauga County's ratio was 103 percent, meaning properties are selling for about 3 percent less on average than their tax values.
The Association of County Commissioners' survey also found that:
The average county tax rate is $0.6285.
The highest tax rate belongs to Scotland County at $1.03 per $100 valuation.
Watauga has lower tax rates than all its neighbors, including Ashe ($0.400), Avery ($0.405), Caldwell ($0.600) and Wilkes ($0.690).
Visit bit.ly/NCACCtaxsurvey to view the entire statewide listing of county tax rates.