By Kara Lopp
Mint Hill doesn’t need to repay Mecklenburg County for a fire tax overpayment because the county still owes the town $175,000 in library funding.
That’s the argument Mint Hill Town Manager Brian Welch will make in a letter to county staff regarding a county error that led to an estimated $183,000 overpayment from the county coffers to Mint Hill. County commissioners said at a meeting last month they want the cash back.
Instead of repaying the amount to the county, Welch suggests the town forgive the county for their upcoming library repayment. The town would then collect $48,140 from the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department and $34,860 from the Idlewild Volunteer Fire Department – totals based on the percentage of proceeds they received – and the town would absorb the remaining $100,000, Welch said in a memo to town commissioners.
Commissioners approved his recommendation Thursday, June 13.
The overage came during payments from the county to distribute tax revenue collected from residents in Mint Hill’s newly-created fire service tax district. The tax, approved last year, affects only residents who live in Mint Hill’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, or ETJ, leaving untouched those living within the town limits who already pay for fire services. Matthews doesn’t have an ETJ.
Using property values and tax records, county officials estimated the town would receive about $500,000 from the new tax, set at 7 cents per $100 of taxable property. But by the end of April, only $275,615.15 had been collected – a nearly 45 percent shortfall, according to county records.
It wasn’t clear at press time how the error occurred, but officials said previously it’s not tied to the county’s flawed revaluation.
Before the tax, Mint Hill residents and those living in the town’s ETJ received the same fire protection but were paying for it at different rates. The tax, officials say, should ensure all residents pay an equal rate for the services they receive. The county paid $2.5 million annually to provide fire service for areas not within city or town limits prior to the tax.
News of the overpayment came as a shock to Mint Hill officials. The town had already disbursed the money it received from the county to the contracted departments which cover, the town’s ETJ: the Mint Hill, Idlewild and Midland volunteer fire departments. The town, which expected to get $185,000 from the new tax, hired three additional full-time firefighter/EMTs in anticipation of the revenue.
John Phillips, fire chief of the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department, took part in the collective effort between the fire departments and the county to make the tax a reality. The volunteer department plans to use the revenue to partially fund a new station to be built on four acres at the intersection of Arlington Church and Cabarrus roads. The dip in revenue could mean a delay in getting the station built, he said previously.
County leaders said they also collected $269,150 less than expected from the Charlotte ETJ fire service district. The board could decide to pull money from the general fund and suggest it be paid back through a 1-cent property tax increase in that district.
That’s the solution county commissioners also could approve to fill the Mint Hill funding gap.