Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.
Fact-checking the Forum
At Wednesday night’s forum, a few facts came up that piqued my curiosity. So I decided to check them out. I thought you might be curious too, so here’s what I’ve found so far. There are a few more I’m looking into, and if you have a question, let me know.
- The tax rate: In 1994, the tax rate was 86 cents, the same as it is today. Your tax bill wouldn’t be the same, because housing values have changed in that time. In the past 17 years, the tax rate has increased 10 times, when you factor in the equalized rate. The highest rate was in 2001, when it was $1.07.
- Spotsylvania County has a high rate of commercial vacancies. According to Cushman & Wakefield, Thalhimer, the county does have one of the highest office vacancy rates in the area. In the third quarter of 2011, Spotsy had a 19 percent vacancy rate. Stafford has an 11 percent rate, as does King George. Fredericksburg has a 9 percent office vacancy rate and Caroline 5 percent. When it comes to industrial property, the county fares better. Spotsy has a 17 percent vacancy rate, which is the second lowest, with only Stafford coming in lower at 13 percent. Caroline has a 56 percent rate, King George 34 percent, and Fredericksburg 20 percent.
- Spotsylvania has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the area. According to RealtyTrac, Spotsy has the 11th highest number of new foreclosures in Virginia, with 94. Stafford has the 12th highest, with 90. In Spotsy, 1 in 481 homes are foreclosed. In Stafford, 1 in 484 are. Fairfax and Prince William lead the state in foreclosures.
- The county has added 3,800 jobs since 2008. This is a little bit harder to pin down. According to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the county has added 472 announced jobs in that time. However, job counts are not always done the same. County staff said that the 3,800 number is accurate, and includes 850 jobs from the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center; 1,700 from companies such as A-T Solutions, Willow Marketing and Career Training Solutions; 1,000 construction jobs in the courthouse area; and 250 construction jobs on the State Route 3 project.
- The county has $9 million sitting around waiting to be spent. The county did end the fiscal year with $9 million in excess reserves. But the choice on whether or not to give that money back to residents was a complex one, said County Administrator Doug Barnes. Recently, the county used its reserves to pay cash for part of the building it bought from Vakos. This purchase saved the county more than $5 million over the long term. County staff have said they want to hang on to reserves for two reasons: 1. Staff don’t know what the economy will be like next year and 2. the reserves help their bond ratings. This summer, while all eyes were on the bond ratings (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), Spotsy saw its ratings increase. With the county’s existing debt, this rating increase will save the county $1 million in interest each year. This is about the same as 1 cent on the tax rate. In its review of the county’s rating, Standard & Poor’s wrote that the “maintenance of strong unreserved balances” factored heavily in the decision to upgrade.