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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Sheriff Smith’s concerns

I’m pretty observant at board meetings. My eyes wander all over the place; at residents, constitutional officers, school board members, supervisors and staff.

Last night, my eyes were fixed on Sheriff Howard Smith because I noticed he had his head in his hands and just appeared to be looking off into space. I knew what the problem was. He just finished hearing a majority of supervisors say at a public meeting that they are unsure they want to increase the personal property tax rate—or equalizing the rate.

I approached him and asked if he is concerned. He said he is because he doesn’t think there is a majority yet on the board convinced that Interim County Administrator Doug Barnes came up with the best budget proposal. Supervisor Gary Jackson even brought up cutting government spending even more, after Supervisor Hap Connors mentioned almost $30 million has been cut from the county’s budget in two years.

By equalizing the rate from $5 to $6.33 cents per $100 of assessed value at 50 percent of the property value (don’t ask me why they do it this way because it seems completely backwards), the county will bring in the same amount of tax revenue it is now. No more. No less. Without the increase, the county would have to cut $9 million from somewhere, and the two biggest chunks of the budget are the schools and public safety.

Smith said if his budget is cut anymore, he will have to layoff deputies. School Board Chairman Gil Seaux, who sat in front of the sheriff last night, told me he fears school resource officers would be on the chopping block.

But what I did not get to ask them is if either of them thought this was the worst of the budget woes.

The discussion sort of came up last night, and I have been wondering about this since the assessments finished last year. What if the economy picks up, and the housing prices begin to increase by the middle of the year, and by November the housing market is getting back on its feet. Some supervisors doubted that, while others thought it was on the horizon. Commissioner of Revenue Debbie Williams said she will be able to grab sales deep into 2009, although she has yet to show proof that her office has this capability. She also recently criticized this newspaper for reporting that Stafford County can, and does, reach into December to pull in sales reports for the assessments there. She said she doubted the report.

But, one thing is for sure: if the housing market continues its decline and prices plummet, the county is in a world of trouble for the fiscal year 2011 budget. The debt load will be approaching the 12 percent limit very soon if they continue on as is. The largest chunk of revenue, the real estate tax, could decline as much as 30 percent. And the goal for that reassessment year is to equalize the tax rate. Just contemplate that scenario for a few minutes and then debate what you think 2010 will be like.

That means a rate of .62 cents per $100 increasing to .78 cents per $100, based on current projections. A penny is worth about $1.5 million. A penny on the personal property tax rate is worth about $66,000.

I guess I am just trying to put this all in perspective. The current proposed county budget does have job elimination. But the next one could be a lot worse.

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Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/spotsygovt/2009/03/25/sheriff-smiths-concerns/

  • lgross

    Hard times don’t change that mission but hard
    times do mean cuts…

    and cuts will not come for free.. there WILL be
    consequences… lower levels of service… the goal
    is still the same – the best service that can be
    provided for the money.

    Times like this can be viewed as opportunities to
    think outside of the box – to revisit what the
    most important priorities really are…and …
    sadly… to figure out what you cannot no longer
    afford to do.

    I don’t call the sheriff for help but I fully
    acknowledge that I want him to come when I do
    call.

    But to be perfectly honest, they will always come
    but probably never as fast as I’d like the to.

    It’s important for Spotsylvania to know – what the
    standard is and how we stack up because to be
    honest if more money is required.. I would like

  • lgross

    to know if our service ranks near the top.. in the
    middle or near the bottom.. both compared to
    other counties our size but also relative to what
    our performance has been over the last 5-10
    years.

    We need to know if we are still improving but
    better than we were.. and will have to slow down
    for a while….

    or whether we are actually going backwards .. to
    service levels 5-10 years ago…

    and even then.. is our service comparable to
    other counties …better or worse?

    We had a run at this with the Balanced Scorecard.

    The idea was to give folks a better idea of what
    we actually were getting for our taxes …and ..the
    opportunity to decide if we want to pay more for
    more (or not).

    but we’re still at the “if we cut we do bad stuff”
    mindset… not very informative for decisions.

  • mtlaurelbt

    Don’t look at the real waste, cut what matters and get everyone up in arms. Do the hard work and look at where the real waste is and keep the officers. Any office knows if they want to limit their cuts, they will cut essential services first and place that in the budget. Call Sheriff Smith on this and make him do the real work that needs to be done

  • jaeshuan

    that means less petty traffic tickets. maybe you should just sell off the dummy cruiser that gets parked out front of salem church elementary, on mine road, near loriella park, and on south pointe pkwy. I bet whoever is in charge of the placement of that cruiser always lost hide and go seek as a child. As you can see I am asserting there will be no noticeable impact on public safety, and anyone who does think so has obviously not seen the deputies asleep on duty as i have.

  • lgross

    The sheriff needs a couple of “hot” replacement cars.. if those cars – absent salaried deputies can get people to slow down..
    I see that as more cost effective than deputy-written tickets.

    but I think it’s interesting that we have similar responses going on with the Sheriff as the Schools when we’re having
    discussions about what to cut (or not) in that both apparently believe that deciding priorities are their purview and not really
    citizens.

    I think citizens can give some valuable guidance on priorities if given the opportunity and after all.. the taxes and the
    services are.. all about them and they ought to have a major say in what will be cut or not.

    No..I’m not advocating that we allow citizens vote to lay off the jailers or the deputies that write the most tickets… ha ha

  • 1958

    I dont think giving tickets for every little thing will help it just makes us dislike the police officers. Yes this is beening talked around as to what i was told Sherff Smith told his staff.I would like to know if he really told them to ticket every one they can?

  • lgross

    I don’t know the facts – but if the idea is that the Sheriffs department can increase it’s revenue by writing tickets…I’d like to see some
    data.

    I’ve seen far, far more empty ghost cars than ticket-writing deputies and I on usually on the major roads in the county every day.

    the most activity I have seen.. for some reason is on the Spotsylvania (aka Mary Lee Carter) Parkway .. where they are particularly good at
    hiding out in the median and near the CVS at the intersection of Route 1.

    I actually see more State Troopers writing tickets than Spotsy deputies but here’s my real point.

    the data exists.. do we know if Spotsylvania writes more tickets than other jurisdictions… ???

    my guess is that they probably write way less…

    but I’d yield my opinion to some real data..

  • gramps

    increase in “ticketing” activity since the county budget woes surfaced. My wife has also made this observation. It seemed to be a natural response, by the Sheriff, as a result of the situation. Overall, it always seems to be the Sheriff and Seaux/Hill that are the most “expressive” at budget time.

  • southwest

    What difference does it make who writes the ticket??? If you broke the law and get caught you deserve the ticket. If you get the ticket and think you were wronged “TELL IT TO THE JUDGE.” THESE COMMENTS MAKE NO SENSE to me. I thought that was why we paided these deputies (to do their job and ENFORCE the law.) Law enforcement should never be a political issue.

  • 1958

    it all ready is a a political issue.

  • 1958

    Dear
    Sheriff Smith did you tell you staff to give all the tickects that can yes or no please/.?

  • lgross

    Either I am missing hearing the rumors.. or this
    is just another cynical view of government.

    I truly have no seen much Deputy activity… and
    I have seen quite a few of the ghost cars.

    What the ghost cars do:

    1. – get people to slow down without a deputy
    giving tickets

    2. – save the cost of the deputy

    so.. I’ve seen dozens of these ghost cars..
    moved around regularly… especially in areas
    where I have noted folks using more speed than
    necessary….

    I’ve seen a LOT of brakelights.

    I’ve seen …maybe 2 or 3 ticket-writing deputies.

    but.. let’s use some facts. I’m pretty sure it does
    not take a FOIA to find out how many tickets
    have been written.

    How about the guys who are pretty sure they are
    on the increase.. get the data and publish it
    here?

  • 1958

    if you know how to find the info for us please do
    it looks like the sherff does not want to coment
    have seen many many people stopped in the last few weeks, do you drive around spotsy?

  • lgross

    80% of my total miles in on Routes 3, 1, 208,
    Brock, Gordon, Smith Station and the Spotsy
    Parkway.

    Hardly a day goes by that I’m not on these
    roads.

    Many of the roads have schools on them also
    and when those signs are on – there is pretty
    good compliance.. virtually all slow down – as
    they should but especially so when the Sheriff
    has one of those parked car.. they work like
    magic!

    I’m not a slow driver.. but my style is to …stay
    with traffic.. not be a “probe” and I have got a
    ticket in Spotsy …. and the deputy downgraded it
    to a “warning” which goes into their computer so
    that the next one ..the deputy knows you already
    got your “freebie”.

    I think the sheriff’s department does a pretty
    good job overall and would not be surprised to
    see data that shows he does a good job for the
    money.

  • 1958

    so you cant answer the question and you dont know what a cop car looks like with there pretty blues ok i understand

  • lgross

    well I’m saying I’ve not personally seen the
    evidence ….

    … and if someone else has some… then facts
    are facts….

    .. but I’m not someone who buy rumors or
    conspiracy theories … or for that matter.. any
    opinions that are heavy on the opinion side and
    light on the data side.

    I’m a pretty hard critic on government i.. if you’re
    not aware but also try to be fair and will not
    condemn without some pretty clear factual
    evidence to show it.

    If the claim is that Spotsy is issuing a bunch of
    tickets – more than they used to and/or more
    than other jurisdictions… I’d like to see
    something more than someone just slinging
    mud.

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