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Charleston tax rates to increase

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In one of the better kept secrets in Charleston, City Council members voted Tuesday to raise your taxes.

They did it during a blink-and-you'll-miss-it special meeting, an annual affair known as the laying of the levies, in which council members officially set the city's tax rates for your personal (car or truck) and real (home) property.

And for the fourth time in the last five years, council raised the tax rates.

But before you call up your neighborhood council member, consider this: For a typical home with an assessed value of $100,000, your tax bill will rise exactly $1.

Also consider this, as city Finance Director Joe Estep pointed out: Despite those four tax increases, property tax rates in Charleston are actually 6.5 percent lower than they were in 2000.

That doesn't mean your tax bill is less than it was 14 years ago. Reappraisals by the Kanawha County Sheriff mean most residents are probably paying more.

In fact, the city of Charleston is expecting a $426,626 windfall this year in property tax collections, simply as a result of recent reappraisals, Estep said.

The higher tax rate will bring in an estimated $100,530 more this year; the extra $1 per home adds up.

Together, those two factors mean total property tax revenues for fiscal year 2013-14 will rise to $12.3 million. Behind business and occupation taxes, it's the second-largest source of income for the city.

Since most people care only about the bottom line of their tax bill -- the amount they owe the county each year -- they probably don't realize everything that goes into that bill.

In addition to state, county and school levies, residents of municipalities generally pay extra to help support city government.

In Charleston, residents pay for what's called a regular current expense levy and an excess city levy. But sometimes they also pay a bond levy, as they did throughout the 1990s to pay off bridge bonds sold to fund repairs in the 1980s.

In 2000, for example, city residents paid a regular levy of 9.92 cents per $100 of valuation and a bridge bond levy of 7.42 cents, or a total of 17.34 cents on Class 2 property. That's in addition to the city excess levy of 10.06 cents, which doesn't change year by year.

Since then, council has increased the regular levy to 16.22 cents. But the bond levy gradually declined and disappeared completely in 2010.

Putting all that together, a family living in a home assessed at $100,000 would have paid $274 in property taxes in 2000 and will pay $262.80 this year, assuming no change in assessment. Keep in mind that's the city portion of your county tax bill, just a fraction of the total amount.

Unlike some cities, Charleston does not charge the maximum tax rates allowed by state law, Estep said. For Class 2 property, that would be 25 cents for the regular (plus bond) levy and 12.5 cents for the excess levy, which translates to $375 a year for that same $100,000 home.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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