Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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GOP Reaction to the Budget

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Steve Thomas, chairman of the Spotsylvania Republican Committee, offered the group’s reaction to last night’s vote on an 86-cent tax rate:

“The Spotsylvania Republicans are deeply disappointed at the Board of Supervisors’ decision to reject tax relief for the citizens of this county. Both the action and the timing are highly troubling.

The refusal to reverse last year’s mistake – and denying the taxpayers their first tax cut in 36 years in the process – sent exactly the wrong message to taxpayers, investors, and business in the county and the region. The opportunity was there to show that Spotsylvania was the place to live, work, and invest, and the Democrat majority on the Board simply blew it.

Nearly as frustrating is the sleight of hand that went into this vote.

The 83 cent budget submitted by County Administrator Doug Barnes was a lesson in diversion and distraction. With nearly $7 million in budget surplus available, a 83 cent rate could very well have been achieved with cuts. At the least, areas other the public safety or education could have been considered first. Instead, Mr. Barnes submitted a budget that hit the vital and visible first, rather than last. It looked more like was an attempt to safeguard spending in county government – at a time when Spotsylvania homeowners and businesses are suffering in record numbers – rather than a serious attempt at budgetary discipline.

Meanwhile, we could not help but notice that the Board majority took a vote on the tax rate in April 5, running afoul of their own schedule, which set the vote for April 12. Were they afraid of how taxpayers would react on the 12th? Do they so lack the courage of their convictions that they preferred doing this a week early, in “cloak-and-dagger” fashion, in the hope no one noticed? They can rest assured we will not allow that to happen.

We should note that this was the action of the Board majority, not the entire Board. Thus we also wish to thank Jerry Logan and T.C. Waddy for refusing to go along with this and standing with the taxpayers.

To these two Supervisors who recognized the need for tax relief – and to those who thumbed there noses at their constituents’ hardships – our message is simple: We know who stood up for the taxpayer and how did not, and we’ll remember in November.”


  • havingfun

    Blah, blah, blah. I wish they would stop acting like they are speaking for all the taxpayers of Spotsylvania.

    I live in Spotsy and I have no issue with the 86 tax rate. NO ISSUE! In fact, I would pay more to make sure that we had better services and more options in our area. I would like to have career-staffed full-time fire and rescue everywhere…more police….more funds for schools and for our public libraries…I would like to have better roads and more options for parks and recreation, etc. I think these things bring people to an area, along with jobs. I do not think that these things just magically pay for themselves. I do think that they make our community smarter, safer and healthier.

    Oh, and I will also remember this in November.

  • Steve T.

    Spending, spending, spending. It’s easy to play Santa Claus and keep hiking taxes until the businesses go away (which they have), the homeowners lose their homes (led VA in foreclosure rate), and the community becomes less wealthy. Then you have to make draconian cuts- you’ve chased away all the wealth and you need to cut taxes to be competitive again.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    Amy:Who authorized you to carry a journalistic balanced bat and swing it both ways? Or, should we be afraid to ask?

  • John Gustafson

    I believe the Spotsylvania citizens would individually invest this nearly $7 million more productively than the government. I was sure the Board was going to approve the return of this money to the citizens. This liberal decision is a disappointment to me and my family.

  • havingfun

    What businesses have gone away because of local taxes? I am not being sarcastic or snarky…I would really like to know what businesses left Spotsylvania county in the last 3 years as a direct results of our tax rate…not those who have closed because they didn’t have customers or other business issues…I mean, businesses who left Spotsy to move to another location with a lower tax rate. Thanks in advance!

    Also, I am having an issue with blaming the foreclosures on the tax rate. Do you think an 83 cent tax rate would have kept people from foreclosure on their homes? I am not sure how saving around $100 a year on their real estate taxes would keep someone from not having to foreclose on their home. I am just not getting that part of the discussion? I don’t think the tax rate has anything to do with foreclosure. The issue is that people can’t pay their mortgage…not the taxes.

    Oh, and geesh…now you want to take away Santa too! ;)

  • D.J. McGuire

    Some problems with the Barnes presentation:

    1) Start with the March 1 version of the Excess Fund Balance ($6.6M), run through Barnes’ 83 cent effects on the Balance, and the result is a remaining number of $3.2M, not $1.3M. At $3.2M, one can wipe out all of the cuts Barnes said was “necessary” under the 83 cent scenario and still have over $1M left over.

    It appears that Barnes didn’t put his $1.8M “holdback” fund on the chopping block. If so, then the cuts wouldn’t be for the 83 cent rate; they’d be for this.

    2) Despite the claim that “education and public safety are top priorities,” Barnes calls for $450K in cuts to Public Safety under the 83 cent rate, but *not* eliminating the newly created Community Development Director (which by my calculation would have covered at least one third of the would-be Public Safety cuts). In money terms, it’s minor, but in terms of how much public safety is “valued” (i.e., put on the chopping block as a scare tactic), it speaks volumes.

  • LarryG

    re: Amy Umble’s reporting = fair and balanced unlike FAUX News!

    re: budget

    Has anyone looked at how Spotsylvania compares to our peer counties on a per capita basis?

    Last time I checked – we don’t look that awful.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    And the questions remain. Who or what should we (the audience) believe in or not? How would you propose the BOS clarify a lie and at best a half truth? Or, does it even matter to the citizen population of Spotsylvania County? Are we being held captive by our own elected leaders, who appear to have a distinctly different budget strategy than the public even knows about.

    When is Spotsylvania County going to allow more members of the public to attend their FOCUS GROUP meetings, without minutes and see for themselves how the County’s future is being planned?

    What is it about meeting with the real stakeholders in Spotsylvania County and gaining a better understanding of how Sptosy plans to conduct business and spendind taxpayers money?

    Last time I looked the MEMBERS present at the FOCUS GROUP meetings included: Jon Riley, Silver Cos; Tim Hall, Tricord; Rick Furnival, Sillivan, Donahoe, and Ingals; Larry Welford, Welford Engineering; Mike Craig, WJ Vakos; Bruce Reece, The Engineering Groupe; Rema Cosner; Wayne Cosner; Bill Missell, RDA,; Betty Rodrique, Virginia Architectural Metals; Harvey Gold, FABA; Lisa Weaver, Fried Companies; JAMES STROTHER, County Planning Commissioner; and TRAVIS BULLOCK, County Planning Commissioner.

    County Planning Staff present included Wanda Parrish, Director; Patrick Mulhern, Planning Manager (moved on); Andrew Hopewell, Planner II; Jacob Pastwick, Planner I; Brian Scott, Development Service Manager; and Brent Elam, Utilities Engineer.

    Has anyone out there had occassion to speak with these people about the future of Spotsylvania County? Any one of these people ever extend an invitation to a member of the publlic to attend any one of these FOCUS GROUP meetings, without minutes? Do any of these people play a serious role in how your tax dollars are being spent?

    Next time the Planning Department and Planning Commission use the term “citizen” participation, inclusion, and input, you may want to ask for a roster of who attends these meeting, and make out CONSENT AGENDAS without you (the public) having a clue how your tax dollars are being spent, and will be spent to underwrite trhe BOS’ and their partners visions.

    Please don’t be too upset that Amy Umble doesn’t even have a pass to attend these meetings, if for no other reason than to clarify where and how taxpayer money is going to be spent. It’s your money, so why aren’t you invited to be part of a government process that should include its citizens, not those other citizens whose interest in Spoty’s future is tie to their wealth and financial interest in taxpayer monies?

    Or, is NOT KNOWING how your money is being spent, the real secret behind knowing and not caring, or not caring what the public thinks and doing as your elected officials have manipulated; 83 cents to 86 cents?

  • aumble

    Hi Larry, I’m not sure if this is what you meant and it’s certainly not a lot of peers, but my coworker Jonas Beals was looking at budget numbers for Spotsy and Stafford, so I asked him for this: from the General Fund, Stafford’s per capita expenses are $1,863 in the proposed fy12 budget and Spotsy’s is $1814.

  • LarryG

    Amy – that’s it. That’s a standard metric used by the Va Auditor of Public Accounts for all counties and cities in Va.

    It’s not perfect because it prolly ought to be also considered in context of mean income… doing that would show tax per capita relative to how much people earn.

    but I think that number is as important as the tax rate because it gives a good idea of how much people are paying – comparatively.

    The State also goes through this kind of calculation when they compute the school funding composite index in which they generate a value called “stress index” which then is used (with other stuff) to compute – for each jurisdiction an “ability to pay”.

    It’s not perfect and it has it’s detractors but it’s one of the few indicators where they attempt to come up with what is the “correct” amount of funding for schools which depending on your point of view is better than more arbitrary numbers thrown up by school advocates of which there never is too much on one side and anti-tax folks on the other side.

    But for me – when we talk budget -

  • Steve T.

    Wow, lots going on here.

    HavingFun, I won’t give the names of the more than 20 business owners I’ve talked to who moved or gave up due to the business taxes here, for the same reason you won’t give your real name in this blog.

    But you should know, according to “Doomesday Doug” Barnes, we are against Santa Claus, puppies, and any tax cut at all will make the sky fall and angels weep.

    Larry- we do not just compete against counties of similar size. We also compete against the lower tax localities that surround us. Orange, F’berg, Culpeper, KG, Caroline, and others have lower tax rates than us- and lower property valuations to boot.

  • LarryG

    Let’s see the numbers Steve. taxes per capita….. that’s apples to apples

    by the way – “giving up” is not the same as moving to a better situation.

    it basically means that moving to a better situation is not going to help the more fundamental problem.

    Small business have a very high rate of failure – often because they are seriously under capitalized and are formed with a wish and a prayer.

    When someone like Logan Electric relocates to Orange, I’ll straighten up in my chair.. but when Rev’a Fashion Wigs goes belly up.. it’s sad but usually expected.

    Besides 9 times out of 10, Reva is leasing a small storefront owned by someone and that someone is the one paying property taxes on it – passed on to Reva and prorated.

    What’s hurting owners of commercial properties around here is that they cannot fill their vacancies and that’s because the economy still sucks and we’re in a GOOD area where govt jobs are plentiful and abound .. ironic that these govt jobs exist in part because of our 1.5 trillion deficit, eh?

    You need to better convince that businesses are fleeing this county. Otherwise, it’s going to go into the partisan blather bucket.

  • havingfun

    Larry – I agree with your take on the situation. I will admit that I am not really into all this stuff, but I do have some common sense and I do know when people are using numbers for their own position…it occurs on both sides of the political stage to the same degree! I am neither a R or a D….I just like to hear the facts and make a decision based on reality, not what someone else is telling me is going on. This is why I don’t watch cable news…all the channels are skewed one way or the other.

    Anyway, can someone explain to me how a real estate tax of 86 cents is a “business tax”? Are we talking about the same thing? I am assuming that business taxes are a separate category that is not 86 cents or 83 cents? Now, if those are really high, then I could see someone having issues if their business was taxed too much, but I don’t see how this relates to the real estate tax paid on real property. The real estate tax is tax on the property, right, not on sales, etc.? It is my understanding that the tax rate we are discussing is the real estate rate. I don’t see many surrounding areas with this populate with a lower rate, so I don’t see how the 86 real estate tax rate would affect a business enough to make them move to another location.

  • Sammy W

    Or how about ‘Chicken Little Thomas’ or ‘Sammy the Liberal’ (ha ha)- call people names Steve (Chicken Little) it worked on the playground when we were kids, why not now?

    Half your neighbors homes were forclosed on? What neighborhood is that Steve???
    You’re blaming poor personal-economic decisions on government taxes and thinking that tax relief is the answer to getting peoples homes back. Good one Chicken Little!

    Get this guy out of the news!

  • Boring

    Steve Thomas is playing the same old tune and it is getting so boring and old.

    Cut taxes. Cut taxes. We can’t afford to live in one of the cheapest counties in Virginia. Cut taxes. We’re Republicans.

    Give me a break.

    Find a new tune, Steve Thomas. Your GOP is real weak and losing so much credibility under your “leadership” that I actually cannot wait for this coming election to see you cry.

  • LarryG

    Spotsylvania’s taxes are not egregiously out of line with out peer counties.

    We are generally lower than the more urban and populous counties like Loudoun and Prince William and generally a big more than rural less populous counties.

    The per capita numbers show this. We just don’t stand out in any particular way.

    If the theory is that businesses fell higher tax counties someone needs to tell those counties that seem to do the opposite. And truth be known – businesses LIKE rooftops.

    Rooftops mean people buying things, getting rugs, furnaces, dentures, etc.

    Commercial buildings pay property taxes – very significant property taxes because commercial construction is expensive and valuable.

    But I’m pretty skeptical that middle-of-the-road Spotsylvania is running companies off to the hinterlands.

    Rural areas do have lower taxes but less people and less prosperous people and no matter how low the taxes are those areas can only support limited businesses because there just simply are not enough rooftops.

    In areas like Spotsylvania, there is a lot of “churn” of small businesses because we have a lot of rooftops and our demographic is affluent (relatively).

    I suspect Steve is aware of these things but being the local Republican Standard Bearer he feels a duty to advocate for Republican principles but to me… and this is my opinion – his portrayal of the situation is a bit too partisan and a bit too mis representative of the facts.

    My view is that our Demographic is heavy on the kids – 1/5 of our population. This is much higher than many other countries but we are an exurban county that attracts young families in search of “affordable” homes. ((as compared to what they can afford in NoVa with an entry level or early career level job).

    Because of this – it’s our relatively LOW property taxes that actually works against us because the reality is that homes with kids do not pay for themselves.

    This is beyond the initial capital costs for new schools and the squabbles we have over proffers for infrastructure.

    Every year – each kid requires a taxpayer subsidy of $4,000 and that money comes from retired, owners of raw land and businesses.

    This is not a Dem or Republican viewpoint. It’s not a partisan viewpoint. It’s the simple reality that I feel must be part of any view of taxing in Spotsylvania.

    I have a separate advocacy about what to do about these costs but for this particular discussion, I feel that the anti-tax positions of DJ and Steve are focused on County Administration and BOS – in a way that comes across as partisan and without acknowledging the reasons why we HAVE HAD years of tax increases to start with.

    I just find it not exactly fair to go after the county over 3 cents without acknowledging what the year after year tax increases actually went for.

    It’s almost as if the county and BOS are being accused of year after year tax increases that were squandered on wasteful govt.

    It’s a nice partisan narrative perhaps but it’s not the truth and that offends my sensibilities.

    I actually consider myself a fiscal conservative and on specific issues you’ll find me much more fiscally conservative than Steve but the difference is i go into the specifics instead of trying to assign blame on the county.

    We have higher taxes for the most part in this county because people want those higher taxes – including Steve I will assert because I’m betting like most parents, he wants the best for his kids from the schools. He wants good teachers and good classrooms and good programs (I’m betting).

    Well… this costs money. There is no way around that.

    and in this county – this “want” from parents results in about 60% of our taxes going to schools – not coffee makers in the county admin office.

  • havingfun

    Larry – well said. I am really disgusted with the whole partisan movement in local politics. (Disgusted at the state and federal level too, but it just really gets me when the locals try to stick to the party line when it isn’t relevant to anything, like you said above).

  • mustang2

    The problem with calling for higher local taxes and equating it with better schools is that it is not always the case. In fact a survey done a few years ago in the Commonwealth demonstrated the two school divisions with the highest standardized test scores were among the lowest per pupil expenditures. Spotsylvania is among the best local jurisdictions for bang for the taxpayer buck and they are to be commended. Our bond rating is excellent because of our prudent fiscal policies and outstanding performance from our county employees and some of us are truly grateful. I have lived in many local jurisdictions where real estate taxes are oppressive. It is very easy to slip into this kind of situation unless we remain aware and continue to be conservative. Those who push for higher taxes and more services are never satisfied. They will ask for more and more. This has been aptly demonstrated by the Democrats in Congress and look where it has gotten us. How much is enough? Their answer is it is never enough and they support endless government expansion which we taxpayers must fund. As far as the taxation of business-don’t forget business personal property tax. This is not a small amount amount and is not business friendly especially since it is based not on profits but rather gross receipts. While it is certainly fine for non business owners to comment on business issues, it is also true these folks don’t know much about what it takes to create and sustain a successful business so much of what they say must be discounted.