Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Is the Board of Supervisors Demagoging?

I’m reading the debate on today’s story and the big question I see is: Who should raise taxes when it comes to funding constitutional offices?

Is the Board of Supervisors demagoging when it criticizes the state for making cuts?

Or is the state legislature getting off free by making cuts that affect the local governments, forcing the locals to cut services or raise taxes?

The sheriff is a constitutional officer, and portions of his office costs are to be reimbursed by the state. When I met with all five of Spotsylvania’s constitutional officers, Sheriff Howard Smith and Commonwealth’s Attorney Bill Neely told me that back in the old days, the state used to pay deputy mileage.

Both said the state has not kept pace with inflation and cost of living and it has caused havoc at the local level. For example, the sheriff said the state reimburses him $27,000 for a deputy’s salary.

Does the state truly believe a deputy should be paid $27,000 and hit the streets without a gun, cruiser, vest or uniform?

The argument also is: How much should the local governments fund constitutional officers and how much should the state fund?

Think about this: Mr. Neely’s office prosecutes STATE LAWS to keep Spotsy residents safe.

Circuit Court Clerk Christie Jett primarily conducts state duties in her office, yet the state has failed to keep pace with the workload, she said.

Should the split be 50/50?

Should it be 60/40?

Right now, the state funds 18 percent of the sheriff’s budget and the county pays the rest. Is this right? Is it wrong?

One poster continues to say that the BOS is demagoging because they are hiding the “fact” (is it?) that what supervisors really are asking for is the state to raise taxes.

I argued that the state has plenty of ways to fill funding gaps and the local governments do not because of the Dillon Rule.

The state can lay off workers. It can decrease salaries across the board. It can cut services. It can increase fees. Heck, there was a time when the state had an employees whose jobs were to inspect mattresses for bed bugs. I’m not kidding.

Yet, this poster continues to argue that the only way the state can get more funds is to raise taxes. I guess cutting services more and doing pay reductions are not options.

They are in the private sector.

And to answer FOURREAL2, why didn’t I write about Hap Connors’ and Jerry Logan’s comments about the Dillon Rule? The answer is quite simple: Mr. Connors and Mr. Logan have no control over the Dillon Rule. Anything they say about the Dillon Rule isn’t a story because if anything is going to change, it must come from the state.

Here is a summary of the Dillon Rule.

The Dillon Rule is used in interpreting state law when there is a question of whether a local government has a certain power. Lawyers call it a rule of statutory construction. Dillon’s Rule construes grants of power to localities very narrowly. The bottom line is that if there is a question about a local government’s power or authority, then the local government does not receive the benefit of the doubt. Under Dillon’s rule, one must assume that the local government does not have the power in question.

Now, this law was created in an era many years ago when apparently local officials were “sodden with corruption and inefficiency.”

Today, local governments despise the rule. But it might surprise some of these local officials that in 1969 when there was a push to dissolve the law for counties and cities with populations above 25,000, the the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties opposed these changes, which made the General Assembly’s decision much easier.

By the early 1980s, after the Virginia Supreme Court had issued some narrow interpretations of local government powers, particularly in dealing with land use and zoning, VML had learned just how important Dillon’s Rule is to local governments. Howard Dobbins general counsel for the league, wrote a column in Virginia Town & City calling the decision of the General Assembly not to overturn Dillon’s Rule “unfortunate, Since that time, the abolition of Dillon’s Rule, or at least the reversal of its strict interpretation to a liberal interpretation, has been a key legislative position of the league. Not only has the condition of local government that Judge Dillon saw disappeared, but other conditions of local government have changed as well. Today, local governments operate under pressure for services coming from all sides. With increasing taxes, citizens expect the most for their tax dollar and demand quality programs. Federal mandates require more of local governments while federal financial assistance is disappearing. The cost of providing services has escalated with inflation just like the cost of living. And rapid growth has put pressure on many of Virginia’s local governments and often demands quick action. Today’s times require innovative solutions of local governments, and the Dillon Rule restricts the power and flexibility which local governments must have to address their needs.


  • bhaas

    Excellent summary of the problem that exists between the state and localities.

    It would appear to me that the sharing ratio for local services between the state and the locality should have been well established by now. In fact, I believe it was when the economy was perking along just fine. In my view, the problem arose in these tough times because our state and local politicians DID NOT plan ahead for “rainy days.” In the good times they spent every dollar they could get their hands on. In fact, at the federal level they spent far more than that…they went out and borrowed or printed more. To wit, I heard today that at the current rate of spending our debt will be 90% of the GDP by 2025! That my friend is better known as bankruptcy in saner circles..

    I also believe our beloved politicians at the state and local level are both guilty of “wanting the other guy to be the one to raise taxes.” To me that reeks of “cowardice under fire” on the battlefield. However, I also think we have clearly established that the first priority of every politician is getting elected or reelected.

    In the meantime, all of us tax paying “slobs” are stuck in the middle. In fact, in the view of this “slob” it is long past time for new thinkers at all levels of politics in this country.

  • LarryG

    Let’s see.. didn’t Spotsy use to fund the schools at some set percentage and then they “failed to responsibly fund” at that level? (seems like I heard some folks say that).

    Yes.. what is the “correct” level that the state should fund deputies ..or for that matter ..schools.

    I do not subscribe to the theory that the state is holding a bunch of money in a secret vault in Richmond.

    I think they give us our fair share of what they get unless someone here or the BOS wants to show how the state is holding back money instead of giving it.

    The State has also cut back personnel, froze raises, and taken other steps. VDOT has cut over 1000 positions.

    But I still ask this question.

    Some of the BOS encouraged Spotsy citizens to go complain to their elected state guys and my question is what are they supposed to ask the state guys to do – other than raise taxes?

    unless of course, you subscribe to the secret vault theory – in which case – I would ask to see some evidence of that.

    I think the state HAS CUT quite a bit at the State level just as Spotsy has but at the end of the day – they both are coming up short – and for the same reason – revenues just came in way too low.

    so Spotsy and the State are in the same boat in my view – except that the Spotsy BOS seems to have this idea that citizens should go jump on the state elected for a “failure to fund” … I guess in the same way the School Board tells parents to jump on the BOS for a “failure to fund”.

    I just find this approach a tad bit disengenous on both sides.

    What exactly is the solution for a “failure to fund” if not to raise taxes?

    I see it as little more than code for “raise taxes’ and I’d rather see the BOS be honest and come right out and say that they want citizens to go lobby their state elected to raise state taxes so we can get our deputies funded.

    otherwise.. I’m going to throw the BS flag… multiple times.

    Oh.. and the Dillon Rule – did ya’ll KNOW that Maryland ALSO is a Dillon Rule state as well as a bunch of others?

    check out this doc:

    page 8 for a pretty good discussion on Dillon in Virginia and other states.

    and then this:

    ” Thirty-nine states employ Dillon’s Rule to define the power of local governments. Of those 39 states, 31 apply the rule to all municipalities and eight (such as California, Illinois, and Tennessee) appear to use the rule for only certain municipalities. Ten states do not adhere to the Dillon Rule at all. And yet, Dillon’s Rule and home rule states are not polar opposites. No state reserves all power to itself, and none devolves all of its authority to localities. Virtually every local government possesses some degree of local autonomy and every state legislature retains some degree of control over local governments. ”

    Finally.. that DAN GUY.. is a sly fellow sometimes.. I think he knows how to “make” news… at times…

  • bhaas

    Okay Larry. You obviously have carefully thought out the local tax increase versus the state tax increase issue. Here is a question for you. Given that it was your decision, what are your preferences?

  • Daniel

    We have way too may police officers in Spotsylvania County. In my opinion, they are becoming a nuisance as they are focusing too much on making money by giving speeding tickets. Lose about 5 officers and that should help the budget some.