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Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Codependent Relationship

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At last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, State Senator Edd Houck spoke about the state budget and how decisions in Richmond affect Spotsylvania County. The supervisors had some other topics to chat about too:

Unfunded mandates:This topic came up a lot. Mainly, the supervisors asked Houck to go back to the General Assembly and tell them the unfunded mandates create a burden for the county. Houck replied that the unfunded mandates generally start at the federal level, get passed to the state and then to the county.

Supervisor Hap Connors said he had county staff look into unfunded mandates and discovered that they account for 20 cents of every 86 cents taxed to county residents. He spoke to the audience, who had mostly requested a flat or reduced tax rate in the next budget, and said, “I can cut your property taxes by 20 cents if you could just put the right people down in Richmond.”

As the topic came up quite a bit, I’ll definitely be looking into this more. Off the top of my head, the only unfunded mandate that comes to mind is special education. And after a cursory search, it seems that others include emergency relief, early intervention, environmental regulations and a few other regulations on taxes and human rights.

Taxation Mixups:Another big topic was taxes. Mainly, Spotsylvania has been unable to collect all of the taxes owed to the county. The issue centers on the zip codes in the county. Two zip codes–22407 and 22408–have “Fredericksburg” as the mailing address. In some cases, this means that sales tax revenue goes to the city instead of the county.Some personal property taxes are sent to the wrong locality, too, and residents have told stories of learning they had to pay taxes to a neighboring locality, even after insisting they live in Spotsylvania. Board chair Gary Skinner said this has also been affecting the gas tax now that the county belongs to VRE. He said the county can identify every gallon of gas sold in the county but has not received the commensurate taxes. He said that when calling the state Department of Taxation, county employees were told that it would be a year before this could be remedied.

Houck said this was ridiculous and that Spotsylvania had been struggling with this issue for too long. He said he would write something into the budget or draft an amendment.

“I think it’s a high time I, as a representative of this county, take action to make sure we can get this problem solved,” Houck said to applause from those attending the meeting.

He later said, “Let’s see if we can crack this egg; we’ll put a full court press on this issue.”

Supervisors also complained about the Dillon Rule, which limits localities’ powers in Virginia. They said this rule especially crippled their ability to find other revenue sources besides sales and personal property taxes.

And they asked about the pension fund for Virginia employees. For this fiscal year, the General Assembly voted to put off paying its share of the fund in order to balance the budget. But Houck said the fund is fiscally sound.


  • SteveThomas

    Hmm, Larry’s favorite Sen. Houck says the pension fund is sound. What say ye Larry? BTW, Happy Thanksgiving LG.

  • wizard1073

    Thanks Steve for speaking up at the meeting. It’s hard to make it to these things when trying to keep business afloat in the offseason (for my business at least).

    I had not realized that further deficits were likely. I just paid the second half of my higher (thanks to the rate increases) real estate and “furniture and fixtures” taxes. I’m nearly tapped out. I’ll have to have growth next year or else ten jobs are going away.

    Hey, BOS, got any economic development grant money for me? I’ll keep ten above-minimum wage jobs in place! I’ll second the comments at the meeting: do not increase taxes further! Cut expenses! I guarantee that students will learn if all they had was a cold room, paper, pencils, textbooks, and a dedicated teacher. Heck, they might even pay more attention to the material.

  • LarryG

    Back at you Steve. happy T-Day and yes I join wizard in complimenting you for speaking on the budget.

    I was taken aback by Houcks’s comment about the pensions but now that he has – I’ll change my position – tentatively until and unless I hear otherwise.

    I’m still not comfortable with THAT WAY of doing budget businesses… I’m not sure where the line is between “ok” and “we screwed up” and to be perfectly honest – if we are going to do something like that – we should be doing it NOT when we are in the middle of a budget shortfall but when times are good and we are trying to figure out how to make govt more cost effective.

    In other words, there is a time and a place to make structural changes to pension plans and that’s when we are making eye-open CHOICES rather than ” we have no choice but to do this – but it’s Okay – trust us”.

    Finally – I DO expect the Republicans to be the fiscally responsible grown-ups in the budget game because they claim fiscal conservative credentials / high ground and in the past they have been rock-solid true to their principles – unlike now days… and I’ll stop there.

    But Houck DID point out that they have CUT ..what was it – 5 BILLION dollars in the state budget over the last 2 years or so?

    And he made the point that these cuts are going to continue to roll down hill to the counties….

    where… you have folks like Mr. Marshall asking if the GA can grant the country more taxing authority …..

    I thought you’d be HOT on THAT… as I would be unless the law was written that any new tax was LINKED to the property tax. That any use of the new tax would have to be tax neutral with the property tax – which WOULD RESPOND to your very valid point about businesses taking tax hits – and I fully concur with your views on this.

    But if you want the county to take the 9 million+ hit – then I think you should FORTHRIGHTLY say WHERE those cuts should go and to ACKNOWLEDGE that the lions share will undoubtedly fall on schools and law enforcement.

    Do you think we have too many teachers and deputies?

    That’s an HONEST QUESTION that I’m hoping you’ll take an honest crack at.

    Do you think that Spotsylvania pays MORE per capita on average for schools and deputies than most other counties in the state?

    Do you think basing school budgets on a per-capita or per-student model (like the state and Feds do) or some other qualitative method to determine how much is the right amount should be used?

  • SteveThomas

    When we have a better idea of the specifics in the budget we’ll probably do an alternate.

    One item of note: What happened to the $5million surplus from this year’s tax hike?

    Also, the problem for next year only occurs if you grant the staff the more than $12million in spending increases they requested.

  • LarryG

    What is your view of the recommendation of an internal audit position?

  • SteveThomas

    I like the idea of a new auditor for the schools.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    The more information one has, the better the decision. Apparently there is a lot more information to be obtained BEFORE any good decoisions can be made on where to cut and not cut.