Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.
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.