Greene County’s 2021 budget includes a property tax increase of an average of 4.25% per residence, as well as several other changes made to restructure funding including reduced staffing, offering an early retirement program and restructuring long-term debt. The deficit in the budget has decreased from $5.45 million to $4.18 million in 2020. The new budget would bring the deficit below $1 million by the end of this fiscal year.
Greene County Commissioner Mike Belding hopes the community understands that tax increases were a last resort.
“We realize there are significant financial issues in our communities. Whether individuals are unemployed, under-employed or affected by other issues that make it difficult to maintain a family’s sustainable income, the last thing we wanted to do was raise the cost of living in Greene County,” he said. “We have done everything we could do before committing to raising taxes, and it just was not enough.”
The budget has increased the property tax by 1.5 mills. Millage is the amount of tax payable per dollar of the assessed value of a property. For example, a mill is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.
In Greene County, an average of 69% of a resident’s property taxes are paid to the school district and an additional 10% goes to their municipality. The remaining 21% are county government taxes. According to a news release on Greene County’s website, “while there is only an average 4.25% increase to a Greene County resident’s total property taxes, it will yield an additional 20% to county government tax revenue.”
Belding said that even though millage has increased, the trend of falling revenue is due to the decreased value in coal.
“Coal mining … until recently has provided a stable economic driver for the county. At one time, 50% of our tax base was in the value and production of coal. Currently it is 32% and will continue to decline,” Belding said.
Because of this trend, Belding said the county is seeking to diversify sources of income and cultivate a more diverse workforce.
“Once infrastructure is established, like broadband availability, water and sewage, why can we not have a portion of our workforce live here and work in New York or Baltimore or Washington, D.C.? Many amenities younger folks are looking for; open spaces, biking and hiking trails and the river are right here and with the capability to telework, they could live here and work elsewhere,” he said.
Belding said this is a year of significant changes which necessitated six town hall meetings at the end of 2020 in New Freeport, Waynesburg, Mt. Morris, Bobtown and Carmichaels, as well as virtual meetings provided to discuss the budget issues and maintain transparency, but he can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Greene County is not unlike other places throughout the country. These are tough times. We have our struggles, but it is a wonderful place to live, learn, work and play,” he said. “As we take on these challenges, including the fiscal problems, there are passionate county employees, community members, businesses, industry partners and others intent on reviving Greene County.”