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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Grandfathering those energy-efficient buildings that have been already approved

Supervisor Hap Connors left a voicemail on my phone yesterday saying that he, Supervisor Gary Skinner, Supervisor Jerry Logan, County Administrator Doug Barnes and County Attorney Jacob Stroman are trying to come up with a plan that will grandfather in owners of energy-efficient buildings whose applications were already approved. That would mean they would still get the five years of a 100-percent rebate on their real estate taxes.

This effort is likely to thwart a lawsuit, as numerous people who spoke at the public hearing Tuesday night said that they would sue the county if they did not grandfather their already-approved applications.

Supervisor Jerry Logan, who supported a grandfather clause, also has county staff inquiring with the attorney general for an opinion on grandfathering for this situation. However, that opinion could be months away, or longer.

Virginia is a Dillon Rule State, which means local governments have no inherent rights to self-governing. Dillon’s Law requires that localities must obtain express permission from the state before enacting certain kinds of legislation. Legislation required by Dillon’s Law is often called “Enabling” legislation.

Here are some PDFs on the Dillon Rule that might help explain why this is a problem:

League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area Education Fund 2004 Study

Clay Writ’s Dillon Rule

Here is background on the tax break

Spotsy Alters Tax Rebate

TAX Break too Good?

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/spotsygovt/2010/08/13/grandfathering-those-energy-efficient-buildings-already-approved/

  • Fredtastic

    That’s good news for everyone involved. The County better figure this one out quickly. Thanks for the update Dan.

  • Wiseman

    Simple question. Why not wait to change the ordinance after you are sure that you can grandfather in those already in the program. Even the night of the vote the motion could have been tabled to allow the staff time to figure this out.

  • Wiseman

    Dan- How can this be “already approved” when staff is “trying to come up with a plan that will grandfather in owners of energy-efficient buildings whose applications were already approved” Which is it?

  • SteveThomas

    Kudos to those involved in working proactively to address this issue. I look forward to seeing the results of their efforts.

  • dtelvock

    Wiseman, I am not sure I understand your question and you may have misunderstood this post.

    There are homes that have already been approved as energy efficient and were getting the 100 percent tax incentive. As of now, they are not. County staff is trying to figure out a way to grandfather those people in, so that they can continue to get the tax break they were enticed with to build such a structure.

    Does that make sense?

  • Wiseman

    The title to this post – I had to read again after I asked my question. It was reading as though the grandfathering plan had been approved not the house that were in the programwere the “approved” part of the title.

  • Wiseman

    make that “houses” plural

  • dtelvock

    Got ya. Reason 1 maybe why I don’t write headlines for a living. I just report :)

    Sorry about the confusion.

  • bhaas

    Seems to me they BETTER find a way, a lawsuit is not what the county needs at this time. And, this is the kind of issue that could cost someone their place on the BOS.

  • Sam

    Democracy in action. Thank you Spotsylvania County Supervisors for hearing the voices of your constituants.

  • http://MAVRICKinc7@msn.com Martin (Marty) Work

    Fact of the matter is the Spotslvania County BOS were NOT LISTENING to their constituents. Were it not for Debbie Williams’ NOTICE of INTENT to change the tax incentive to qualified and qualifying owners of the tax incentives, no one would have even made it to the August 10, 2010 meeting. Please recall Supvs Skinner and Connors charged Ms Williams, at the meeting, in conducting business, she should have refrained from doing, which necessarily would have left lots of homeowners, business owners and builders out in the cold.

    The BOS simply made a unilateral decision to shut the tax incentive down, without any questions, input or long range consequence of the ordinance change because the County was bleeding tax dollars for a promise they made available to the public to bring public and commercial tax dollars to the County.

    When the BOS voted down the tax incentive, there was no thought toward grandfathering the “approved list.” It was not until AFTER the vote that “equity” became part of the discussion and have the BOS back-peddle on their intentions to plug a hole and never look back at the consequences of their decision, which has yet to be determined for the long haul.

    Simply said, GREEN is out, and “business as usual” is back again, making more promises they can’t keep except at tax payer expense. If GREEN doesn’t count for anything in Spotsylvania County anymore, how much GREEN will ultimately be lost to the County when the invitation to join the County population is not much more inviting than “buyer beware?”

    What else don’t we know about how business is being conducted, behind closed doors, in Spotsy, without any accountability to the public interest?

  • bhaas

    Here we have an instance where I find my self completely agreeing with Mr. Work.

    While it can be argued reasonably that a 100%, five year rebate of property taxes is over the top; the BOS DID pass it previously.

    I will be watching their positions on “green” in the future because this board has lost it’s credibility in the “green” world as far as I am concerned.

  • Jim

    bhaas – “While it can be argued reasonably that a 100%, five year rebate of property taxes is over the top; the BOS DID pass it previously. ”

    I keep hearing this “100% tax exemption” phrase thrown about, but it is not the whole truth. The 100% exemption applied only to the assessed value of the improvements, not the land. People on this program still had to pay taxes on the assessed land value. And, since the assessed land value on an improved lot is higher than on an unimproved lot, the county is still getting more tax revenue than it did before these buildings were constructed. The county also gets increased revenues from sales taxes, personal property taxes, etc. from people moving into the county.

    The only possible way that the county could actually lose money and claim this program was a financial drain is by people upgrading existing structures in order to qualify. Has that been happening? Because the only people I’ve heard talking about this were all dealing with new construction.

    Frankly, the county needs to ensure that anyone who applied for the exemption on or before the 10 August meeting is grandfathered under the changes, in order to avoid a well-deserved lawsuit (ever heard the term “detrimental reliance”?).

  • Jim

    I have yet to see an explanation for where the claims of “lost revenue” have any basis in actuality.

    Does anyone have actual financial statements showing how the alleged revenue losses were calculated?

    The previous BOS that approved this tax exemption presumably had done financial studies and found that the program would be sustainable. Where are the studies from the current BOS showing otherwise?

  • Jim

    For the record:

    I am one of the homeowners who constructed an energy efficient (Energy Star certified) home and applied for the exemption prior to the meeting, but have not yet received an approval letter.

    If the grandfathering issue is not resolved in favor of those of us who accepted the county’s incentive offer and applied for the exemption in good faith, then I will be one of those people examining my options for legal action against the county.

    Considering the high dollar amount of investment some businesses sank into new construction specifically in order to take advantage of this tax incentive, I know that there will be at least several lawsuits, if not one large class action filed against the county.

  • bhaas

    Jim…Thank you for clarifying that exemption situation. I must admit I did not look into the details as closely as I could, and should, have. My point was that the real “crime” committed here was the renegging and not the actual tax exemptions.

    Likewise your points about lost revenue are very interesting and may be quite correct.

    Whether it be poor staffing, bad legal advice, or just plain stupidity it appears the BOS completely “punted” on the one.

    I also expect that your sentiments on the legal situations are also quite accurate.

  • http://MAVRICKinc7@msn.com Martin (Marty) Work

    See what happens when you start asking simple questions of your elected officials and they don’t have a qualified or quantified answer to how they make decisions, much less, act in the best interest of a public constituency that has no clue what’s going on and where accountability starts and spots. It certainly isn’t on a dime.

    Keep the questions coming. So far, they deserve an answer, even if it’s a bad one.

  • GIVEMEABREAK2M

    Well Marty Work I see where you are at it again (only telling your side of the story). How in the world can you claim that the Board of Supervisors failed to listen to their constituents on this issue. Lets look at the facts, you had approximately 30 citizens who spoke at the public hearing asking the Board of Supervisors to keep the program as it was. The majority of those speaking (if not all) had a financial gain. I asked my Supervisor to delete the program fully. Why should I be forced to supplement someone elses taxes just because my home isn’t “energy efficient” because I have lived in the county for over 50 years. Yes, Marty Work I believe that the Supervisors did listen to the “MAJORITY” of the county residence who don’t want their taxes increased in order to give a very few number of residents a financial gain in the name of energy efficiency???? No other locality in the Commonwealth of Virginia has ever developed such a generous plan, there is a good reason for that. You figure it out Marty Work.

  • http://MAVRICKinc7@msn.com Martin (Marty) Work

    GIVEMEABREAK: I have figured it out, much along the same route you took 50 years ago when you joined the company, except I’m not in denial nor wish to pander or prance around poor business agendas and decisions that keep mounting around the moated castle of Spotsylvania County’s oligarchy government.

    The issue at hand is about equitable relief for those who were promised something, but NOT SOMETHING FOR NOTHING.

    If you don’t want to pay more taxes, maybe that’s something you should have taken up with the COMPANY executives in 2007, BEFORE they decided to renige on a promise made.

    Have no idea what MAJORITY you think the BOS have spoken to, but that couldn’t be more than about 20 special interest and stakeholder patrons that meet behind closed doors, by design.

    As with your prior blog comments about my participation in government affairs, you are again invited AGAIN to use me as your punching bag if you think that serves any purpose other than to promote your overbearing pretense and arrogance. Since I don’t have your name, nor have any idea who I’m speaking with, or what your stake in obfuscation is, I’ll just refer to you as a “BULLY” who enjoys taking pot shots from anonymous cover.

    You haven’t answered my questions, nor those posed by JIM, which are important questions that obviously you are not in a position to answer at this time.

    Unless and until you can claim to be anything more than another tax payer, or that you are Spotsylvania County’s spokes person or its constitutional equivalent, we’ll measure your comments the same way we do everyone elses; with caution.

    The last person I recall ever saying out loud that “I have lived in the County for over 50 years” was at a Spotsylvania County Planning Commission meeting covering HCOD requirements and how flat roofs have always worked before. The respondent was Hugh Cosner of Cosner’s Corner. Mary Lee Carter was serving on that Commission when Mr Cosner made his presentation. The FLS even took video tape of the peresentation.

    But what do I know? I could be talking to anyone in this blog under the guise of anonomyous.

    OUR questions remain on the table and deserve answers.

  • Hap Connors

    The fact is that some of us worked with staff and others in the community to keep the program alive by revising it. We will make further adjustments on Sept. 14. I believe in this program and using targeted tax credits to produce community benefits (ala Technology Zones and other economic incentives). It’s not a new tool, and it’s already creating jobs and even new businesses that are creating a new supply chain, and if we keep focused on these types of businesses, we can eventually create a whole new green industry cluster for our county and region. As for the grandfathering and doing right by people who’ve made the investments, I intend to make a motion that we do so, and then let someone at the State tell us we can’t. I’ll get the votes.

  • bhaas

    Well Mr. Connors, I have no doubt you did work with staff and others the second time around and grandfathering is the proper thing to do.

    Why was that kind of analysis not performed back in 2007 when you first introduced the exemptions? Surely, you understand that these builders and their future customers invested some serious money to allow them to offer and take advantage of those exemptions.

    Yes, I understand that the BOS has serious financial issues to deal with today that may not have been present in 2007. However, sir, a renege is a renege and regardless of your valiant efforts to revise, this represents your second effort.

  • http://MAVRICKinc7@msn.com Martin (Marty) Work

    I’m not looking for votes. I’m looking for results. I’m from Missouri: SHOW ME.

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