Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
LoBuglio flops on tax rate
King George supervisors invited the county’s sheriff and its fire and rescue chief to a work session Tuesday to discuss manpower needs, then decided, after a strange twist of events, that it would be a waste of time for them to speak.
The reason: Supervisor John LoBuglio, who earlier agreed to advertise a 4-cent increase in the real-estate tax rate, decided he couldn’t support any tax hike at all.
His change of heart meant a majority didn’t support the 4-cent increase. That brought on the indignation of Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr., who called out LoBuglio for changing his mind and said there was “no point wasting the time of the fire and rescue people.”
Brooks’ response was mild compared to the wrath of Supervisor Ruby Brabo. She stood across the table from LoBuglio and shook a copy of the budget at him, telling him she’d gone over it, line by line, and done the research because she took it seriously.
“You did not,” Brabo said. “You need to do your homework.”
She also said he couldn’t come to a meeting at this point in the budget discussions and ask the county administrator to trim $800,000. That’s the amount that the 3-cent increase in County Administrator Travis Quesenberry’s proposed budget would generate.
But supervisors agreed to advertise a 4-cent increase.
“I don’t think that’s fair; that’s not right,” Brabo said about LoBuglio’s change of position.
“I don’t have to answer to you,” LoBuglio responded. “I have to answer to my constituents.”
LoBuglio later said that he didn’t make his decision easily. “I’ve been talking to a lot of people,” he said.
“Yeah, I know, six people, the same who came to me,” Brabo said. She later told The Free Lance–Star that a group of six people, whom she didn’t want to name, wanted her to support no increase in the tax rate.
“Basically, I was told, if I didn’t do this, they were worried for me,” she said.
The supervisors’ strange meeting lasted all of 22 minutes, which included a brief discussion about water and sewer rates.
Three fire and rescue officials, David Moody, Ted Lovell and Valerie Myers, sat on the front row of the board room, alongside Sheriff Steve Dempsey and Animal Control Director Kevin Eller. A week earlier at a work session, the supervisors had asked the officials to come talk to them about needed positions.
Brooks decided on Tuesday that it would be better to hear their input when the board could actually respond to their needs.
LoBuglio said after the meeting that he couldn’t support the tax-rate hike because he couldn’t see where the 3-cent increase would be spent. Yet, in various work sessions, Quesenberry has presented reports—up to 25 pages long—highlighting changes in revenues, where funds were cut and why budgets in various departments changed.
LoBuglio said he’d heard from two dozen taxpayers, including business people and senior citizens. Those residents told him they couldn’t absorb an increase in the tax rate, especially with water and sewer rates going up for the fourth year in a row, he said.
When asked why they hadn’t attended last week’s hearing on the budget and made their opinions public, LoBuglio said: “I asked them that, too. They were all busy.”
LoBuglio’s announcement was similar to a vote cast in June 2010. After board members, who make up the county’s Service Authority, voted to raise water and sewer rates for five years in a row, LoBuglio said he couldn’t support the increase because his constituents didn’t want it.
That time, he got the wrath of Supervisor Joe Grzeika, who criticized LoBuglio and then-member James Mullen for not mentioning their opinions in any previous work sessions.
Dale Sisson Jr. said Tuesday that he still supported a 3-cent tax increase, but not a 4-cent one.
With a 3-cent increase, the county would have a deficit of $24,000, which it can cover from the general fund, Quesenberry said.
Under that plan, the county’s budget would total $63 million. The schools’ request would be fully funded, but there won’t be money for any fire and rescue positions or to upgrade two animal-control officers from part time to full time.
Supervisors are scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Monday to approve the budget.
At least that was the plan, as of Tuesday night.