BY WILLIAM J. DES ROCHERS, Fluvanna Field Officer
Supervisor Gene Ott (Rivanna) surprised his Fluvanna colleagues at their first budget work session on February 11th.
Mr. Ott suggested a tax increase of some three to five cents – if it supported his major concerns. He specifically proposed that the debt service fund be increased, and that additional funds be provided to the schools, social services, and the sheriff’s office. The county administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV had prepared a budget with no tax increase and significant operational cuts. Mr. Lawton said that he had relied on conversations with a number of supervisors.
Several colleagues, including: Mozell Booker (Fork Union), John Gooch (Palmyra) and Marvin Moss (Columbia), quickly supported Ott’s broad proposal. His idea was sufficiently general to win support but also specific enough to signal that some other members were favorably disposed towards a tax or fee increase.
Each supervisor was invited by Chairman Moss to present his or her views. Some of the more salient comments included:
· Charles Allbaugh (Rivanna): “If we can go a year without a tax increase we should go for that …[it is] very important for us as a general principle; it buys us more credibility with our constituents. … We could play with the [tax] collection rates because eventually we get it [the late payments] all back. We need to take a time out from growing the fund balance [the county “savings” account]”
· Don Weaver (Cunningham): “I’ve never heard of such a thing, there are a lot of games being played here. I think the whole thing is irresponsible. It never stops [and] the employees are the ones who suffer.” At this point Mr. Allbaugh said: “I resent that [games are being played]…all you do is complain.”
· Mozell Booker: “We need to take care of our core services for our people. I’d like to look after schools, social services, and [public safety]. … [I would rather] not raise taxes for our people; there are going to be better days for us.”
· John Gooch: “I agree with Gene. What it [the proposed budget] implies is not funding the three cents [a previously anticipated tax increase] for debt service. …I could be persuaded to go as much as three cents.”
· Marvin Moss: My preference is that we not raise taxes at all. There has to be a balance between the taxpayers paying and the citizens who need our services. … [I am] close to Gene – put in a penny or two but weigh that against the core services…. If necessary, I’d vote for a couple of cents increase”. Emphasizing that it was not a proposal, Mr. Moss continued: “there will be an overall 18 to 20 percent decline in the personal property tax base … should we make that loss revenue neutral [by increasing the personal property tax to make up the difference]? We could look at that and see if it’s something we want to do.”
Supervisors then instructed the staff to apportion a two-cent tax hike across the appropriate budget categories and see what the impact would be. Staff was also requested to provide supervisors with additional information regarding the implications for debt service if the county did not increase the tax rate by three cents for the debt service fund. Previous bond analyses assumed that there would be a steady tax increase path to build up sufficient reserves so that some of the debt service could be deferred.