BEDFORD - Despite months of sometimes contentious belt-tightening, rising expenses will force Bedford County property taxes up as much as 10 percent in the coming year, commissioners said Thursday.
The tentative budget, set for public review today before the commissioners make further changes, includes a 10 percent hike - the legal limit following a property reassessment, Commissioner Steven Howsare said. The final budget must be passed by year's end.
"We're hoping we'll whittle that down before it actually passes," Howsare said.
A projected $300,000 year-end deficit and massive state-imposed Children and Youth Services expenses forced county officials to raise taxes in hopes of avoiding further cuts in 2013, Howsare said.
"That was never an option we really wanted to go down," he said. "But ending the year in as much of a hole as we did [we have to raise taxes] "
Next year's tentative budget is more than $15 million, he said, an increase from this year's approximately $14.5 million.
No single expenditure is responsible for the increase - union employees' contracts are set to carry on as usual, while non-union county workers are set for a 1.5 percent wage hike - and further staff cuts likely wouldn't make up the difference, he said.
In recent months, county officials cut jobs in the sheriff's department and at the county jail, while the multicounty Mental Health and Mental Retardation program has faced substantial layoffs.
Corrections officers have even closed blocks and cut down heating costs but it likely won't be enough, Howsare said.
"We're not sure how much more we can cut. There might be a position here or there," he said.
The state stills owes Bedford County more than $600,000 in compensation for increasingly expensive juvenile justice programs, despite repeated assurances that the money would be on the way soon, Howsare said.
"We can't believe that this is an anomaly for this year," Commissioner Paul Crooks said. "We're going to have a pretty good deficit carryover."
Both commissioners noted that the budget on display today isn't the final draft; they intend to make changes over the coming weeks, they said.
A tax increase would require an additional vote - under state law, reassessments must leave property tax revenue at the same level as the preceding year. Raising taxes after the reassessment requires an additional vote.
In July, when the reassessment was still in progress, Howsare said the limited tax increase "wouldn't be worth the grief you're going to get."
Crooks acknowledged Thursday that a property tax hike in the wake of a reassessment won't look good politically.
"I guess if I thought I was going to be a career politician, I'd think it's dangerous politically," he said. "But realistically, we're charged ... to make the best decisions for the good of the county."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.