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Berkeley County property tax rate declines again

April 20, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County, W.Va., homeowners will see more than 3 cents shaved off the county property tax rate after a vote this week reduced the levy rate for the fourth straight year.

The county commission voted during a special session this week to set the county's 2006-07 fiscal year levy rate at 20.02 cents per $100 of a Class II property's assessed valuation, a 14 percent decrease from last year's rate, commission President Howard Strauss said.

"It's a significant reduction, which means Berkeley County, for the fourth year in a row, has the lowest levy rate in West Virginia," Strauss said.

The county's property levy rate is calculated on every $100 of a property's assessed valuation, or 60 percent of its appraised value, with revenue from property taxes accounting for almost half of the county commission's overall budget.

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The new reduction means that a homeowner will see the county's portion of his tax bill at $240, or $40 less than he paid last year in taxes on a $200,000 house, provided the assessed value of the house remained the same as last year, Strauss said.

This year, the commission expects to raise $10.1 million in revenue from property taxes, $929,679 more than the amount raised last year, as part of a $22.8 million budget. About 50 percent of that figure comes from Class II, or owner-occupied residential properties, Strauss said.

State law requires county commissions to roll back levy rates for property taxes when an annual appraisal of all property causes an increase in projected property tax revenues of more than 1 percent.

The levy rate for Class I properties declined 1.62 cents to 10.01 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, while the rate for Class III and IV properties, which comprise both commercial and rental properties fell 5.52 cents to 40.04 cents per $100 of assessed property.

The reduced levy rate likely will not translate into much overall savings for homeowners, county Assessor Preston Gooden said.

For one, the county school board's levy rate, which adds up to about 79 percent of a homeowner's tax bill, has remained virtually unchanged for several years, Gooden said.

Also, assessments continue to rise on the strength of increased home prices throughout the county.

Home prices in Berkeley County have also shown steep increases, rising an average of $75,000 from 2003 to 2005, according to county Real Estate Manager Brad Unger.

The new year's budget will include funding a new salary structure that will include raises for all county workers and the addition of several positions, Strauss said.

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