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Mount Pleasant hikes property tax rate 4.5 percent following reassessment

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In a meeting Friday at Mount Pleasant Town Hall, Town Council raised the town's property tax rate by 4.5 percent. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Citing the expense of costly drainage problems, Mount Pleasant Town Council raised the town's property tax rate by just over 4.5 percent Friday.

The increase will appear on property tax bills this fall.

The decision came at a special meeting where the Town Council needed to adjust the town's tax rate to account for Charleston County's reassessment.

The increase amounts to an extra $30.60 for the owner-occupant of a home worth $450,000, which is about the average taxable residence in the town.

A rental property or commercial property worth the same amount would have a larger increase, $45.90, because such properties don't get the tax breaks as owner-occupied residential properties.

The tax increase was approved on a 5-2 vote, with council members Kathy Landing and Brenda Corley absent. Gary Santos and Jake Rambo voted against the increase.

Council members Guang Ming Whitley and Tom O'Rourke advocated for a larger tax increase, and the 4.5 percent jump that was approved was a compromise.

“I think we need this money to continue to do great and service our residents," O'Rourke said. “I think they are getting something for what we’re going to charge. It’s not like we’re just taking more money to buy pens and pencils."

O'Rourke said one reason the town's homes are so valuable, compared to the rest of the region, is the town's attention to things like roads, drainage and recreation.

The town's property tax base now exceeds $1 billion, Administrator Eric DeMoura said.

Rambo repeatedly said it was wrong to raise taxes amid a recession and pandemic.

“For us to even consider raising anybody’s taxes is, at best, tone-deaf," he said. "We are in the middle of horrible times, and the idea of someone getting a higher tax bill than they got last year is just not right.”

Mayor Will Haynie opposed a larger tax increase but supported the 4.5 percent compromise.

"We didn't choose to inherit drainage problems," he said, and the added money can be used to address such problems.

Countywide reassessments of property values, like the one Charleston County completed this year, typically increase the taxable value of real estate. Local governments must reduce their property tax rates to compensate for those higher values.

That's called rolling back the millage rate — the official name of the property tax rate. The county calculates rollback rates that would be neutral, but local governments can set rates that are a bit higher.

That's what Town Council did Friday. They rolled back the tax rate to one that would be revenue-neutral, considering the increased tax base, and then they added more.

As a result, the town's tax rate will be lower than last year but will raise nearly $1.4 million more because of the increased value of the properties being taxed. 

The tax increase comes as little surprise because members of Town Council have been discussed raising the property tax during reassessment when they had their past two annual budget retreats.

Raising the property tax rate during a reassessment year is often appealing to local officials because it can appear the tax rate was lowered when, in fact, it was increased.

In 2005, the Charleston County School District approved a huge tax increase during a reassessment year, spurring anger not at the district, but at the state's property tax system. That helped spur sweeping changes to South Carolina's system of property taxation in 2006 under Act 388.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.