Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Candidates weigh in on Spotsy’s tax rate

The election is coming up soon, and many residents still have questions for the candidates. I asked them seven questions and am posting the answers on the blog each day through Nov. 8. I emailed the questions to all nine supervisor candidates. I am posting all of the answers I’ve received.

Today’s question: What are your views on Spotsylvania’s tax rate?

And the candidates answered:

Raymond Bell, Livingston District

As I consider my current outlook on taxes, I consider doing a comparison between the Spotsylvania tax rate and the tax rate of similar sized counties in Virginia, such as neighboring Stafford, which reveals that Spotsylvania has one of the lowest tax rates among counties of similar size.  Spotsylvania’s real estate tax rate is an incredible 22 cents lower than the rate in Stafford, in fact.  By and large, supervisors have been successful in keeping our taxes in check.  As supervisor, I will continue this conservative approach to taxation and focus on non-residential ways to increase revenue (increased revenue from new economic development, tourism and visitor spending, for example).
Ann Heidig, Livingston District

I believe that the current rate is too high.  It has resulted in a $9 million surplus while many of our families are struggling to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. I haveont-f talked to many people who are trying to make ends meet and find that taxes are imposing considerable burden on their income.  We have people on fixed income from retirement accounts and others who are unemployed or struggling small business owners.  The tax rates and taxes they

pay are burdensome. This is not the time to overstress our citizens with taxes they can ill afford.

Don Holmes, Salem District

As a historical reference I am reviewing Spotsylvania County’s tax rates for the past 11 years 2001 – $1.07 / 2002 – $1.01 / 2003 – $1.01 / 2004 -  $.86 / 2005 – $.89 / 2006 -  $.62 / 2007 – $.62 / 2008 – $.62 / 2009 – $.62 / 2010 – $.86 / 2011 – $.86.  Despite the tax rates climb over the past few years it still remains well short of counties comparable to Spotsylvania.  Spotsylvania’s tax rate is the lowest among the 10 largest jurisdictions in Virginia with Spotsylvania ranking as the 8th.  From 2008 – 2010 $30 million was cut from the county budget.  I would work to keep the tax rate as low as possible and still provide the services our citizens deserve.  We must clearly define the services our citizen’s desire and need and work to develop a budget which accomplishes that goal and keeps the tax rate low.  The question we must answer is if we value quality schools and education, responsive and adequate emergency services, and reduction in transportation problems–then ask how much are the citizens willing to be taxed.

Tim McLaughlin, Chancellor District

Spotsylvania County has actually not had a tax reduction since 1975.The Board of Supervisors (BOS) has increased property taxes twice, business taxes once in the past 4 years, this during tough economic times for our area and our country. The BOS in 2009 nearly doubled the commercial property tax rate in the county which is a direct cause of Spotsylvania’s 20% commercial vacancy rate (Stafford has 50% more commercial square footage and 11% vacancy, no BPOL tax). The BOS has made Spotsylvania County an unfriendly place to do business through excessive taxes and regulation policies, which has chased out business and lowered actual business tax revenue. The county tax revenue this year provided the county a $9 million surplus which was decided not to be returned to the tax payers.This shows we are taxed too much! I want to begin rolling back the Business, Professional, and Occupational Licenses (BPOL) tax over the next few years using the surplus to offset the reduction in BPOL revenues of $3.9 million. Assuming the same tax rate and holding our budget steady we should continue to achieve surpluses that can be used to pay down the county debt load which has increased significantly over the last few years. All our community leaders believe in maintaining the budgets for public safety, quality schools, and good roads- the difference is how we get there. I’m of the thought that encouraging business growth grows jobs and increases the tax base without necessitating hikes in individual taxes that would be paid by you and me. Public services will only continue to grow in cost. If the business base is not increased, the BOS will continue to raise the taxes on the citizens of Spotsylvania. I believe in more efficient government that reduces needless regulation and burdensome taxes and fees–especially those levied upon our business community.

David Ross, Courtland District

Witha 9 million dollar surplus reported, the Spotsylvania County tax rate is too high.  We are reaching the point with all the various taxes, fees, and tolls that we are paying, many unknown to most residents such as the new Spotsylvania gas tax of 2.1 percent – that we are reaching the point of diminishing marginal rates of returns on tax revenue for tax increases.  Diminishing marginal rate of return is an economic term.  It means in this case that once you reach a certain point of raising taxes, less tax revenue will come in.  An extreme example of what I’m talking about – to get the point across is that if we had a 100 percent tax rate, no one would work just to have all the money taken in taxes.  Diminishing marginal rates of return occur far before reaching the 100 percent tax rate.  At the federal, state, and local (add them all together) tax rates today, for some duel income Courtland residents, it just does not make sense for both husband and wife to continue to work, as a large portion of the second  income is taken up with child care, higher tax rates on the additional income, gas taxes and cost of gas, and other expenses.  When tax rates increase, we will lose tax revenue because it just won’t pay to work.

Paul Trampe, Salem District

On July 19, 2010 The Free Lance Star editorialized “Raising taxes when the economy is still sputtering is not something we’d recommend.”   I agree.

In the 2010 budget cycle the Board raised the property tax by 3 cents above the equalization rate. That 3 cents raises about $3.5 million per year. This past fiscal year the county ran a $9 million surplus. In the 2011 budget cycle (when the surplus was already estimated in the $7 million range) the Board voted not to rescind the tax increase and then not to offer a one time tax rebate.

To tax people’s homes more than is necessary to pay for government services, particularly when so many are struggling just to pay their mortgage and hang on to their home, is difficult to understand.

Meanwhile our economy continues to struggle and is crying out for tax relief. Often in a bad economy it is difficult to cut taxes because the recession depresses revenues and services still have to be paid for. Then when the economy is strong the argument is often made that a tax cut is unneeded. But in these conditions, a bad economy combined with  budget surpluses, anyone who does not support cutting taxes now, never will. If their position is that taxes can only go in one direction, up and up, they are entitled to that position, but that is not what I believe.

Furthermore, I do not believe this surplus is a fluke or one year phenomenon. The underestimation of revenues came in a down economy. If the economy improves, revenues will continue to grow. While a one-time tax rebate would be better than no tax relief at all, as it would help some homeowners who are treading water, only a permanent tax reduction will help to provide an incentive for businesses to locate here and help our economy.

If there is room in next year’s budget I would certainly consider more tax relief than merely repealing the 2010 increase. However, that is where I would start.