The Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 Wednesday to leave both the real-estate and personal-property tax rates as they are: 57 cents per $100 of assessed value for real estate and $1.71 per $100 assessed value on personal property.
The supervisors’ meeting included a public comment period during which county residents were invited to address the board about the tax rates. No one signed up to speak.
“We discussed 57 cents at the last meeting [March 13], and there’s not a single person here tonight to oppose it,” Blue Ridge District Supervisor Karl Weiss said.
Weiss made a motion to maintain the current tax rates. The motion was seconded by Rickie Fulcher, Peters Creek District. Weiss, Fulcher and Crystal Harris, Smith River District, voted in favor of keeping the current rates. Voting no were Lock Boyce, Mayo River District; and Roger T. Hayden, Dan River District.
“I’m not really happy with the tax rate; haven’t been for a long time,” Hayden said. “I think it should be cut because taxes in Patrick County are exceeding the income of the working person.”
Hayden is referring to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic 2016 report that of the Virginia counties with the smallest number of employed workers, Patrick County had the lowest average weekly wage at $491. Of the 133 counties in the state, 28 have wages that average $501-$600.
In speaking after the meeting, Fulcher said he voted to keep the tax rate as-is because no one is sure just yet what the tax burden will be. Many county departments are still presenting their budgets to the board of supervisors, but the tax rate needed to be set now due to the tax-collection schedule.
“To me, you need to have your budget established before you can determine what the tax rate should be,” Fulcher said. “I’m not in favor of adjusting the tax rate until we see what the needs are … there are other options out there. We may need a paid ambulance service. Do you go back and apply half a million? It was not prudent to raise or lower the tax rate at this time.”
At the March 13 Board of Supervisors meetings, County Administrator Tom Rose recommended the tax rates not be lowered due to a rise in health-insurance premiums for county employees. Rose said during that meeting that if the county shifts the entire burden of that rise to employees, fines might be imposed.
Weiss pointed out during the meeting that Floyd County has higher tax rates. Boyce said it’s difficult to compare “apples to peaches” by looking to neighboring counties such as Floyd and Franklin.
“Franklin County has some of the highest valued real-estate in the state around Smith Mountain Lake … it’s a bigger population base and a lot more money for real-estate than if you came here,” Boyce said. “It’s very difficult to sit here and say our taxes are low relative to other people. Look at how hard it is for people around here to pay their taxes, and if they have much real estate – and most people in Patrick County are here because they can have a little real-estate. They find it is an onerous thing to pay because they have a high assessment and rate.
“And what you can do with land is limited in options,” Boyce continued. “You can’t really grow tobacco anymore. Cattle prices are low. Timber goes up and down like everything else … Used to be you could pay with hunting fees, let people come and deer hunt and now you can’t come close.
“If you have a small acreage lot and a nice house you are making out like a bandit here and I’m happy for you, but that’s a fraction of our taxpayers. Most are retirees,” Boyce said.
Hayden said that Patrick County is still in a state of decline and experiencing negative growth. “That’s not good. We need to turn the county around and have positive growth. If we don’t grow, we die.”
Boyce said, “I don’t know how we can do that. It’s like rain: you have to hope it falls on you. One of the real frauds that’s worked on the public is the idea that governmental bodies such as this can single-handedly encourage economic growth … but the thing we can best do to help promote growth is lower the real-estate tax.”
Harris pointed out that the highest tax-rate hike in the county’s recent history occurred in 2009, and she was the one person who voted against it.
Boyce said that the hike was due to needing a jail and school funding. “Sorry we had to do that, but when I came on this board there wasn’t a contingency fund. There was a balance of zero, and that’s not a good thing.”
Previous to the tax-rate discussion, Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith presented his office’s $4-million budget to the supervisors. The presentation is part of ongoing budget discussions from various county government offices.
Cost for courtroom security has gone up, Smith said. Additionally, the cost of medical treatment for inmates is increasing.
In the cost of treating inmates for medical conditions and injuries, the county jail can receive help on medical bills only for inmates in one of the following categories: those under 19 already on Medicaid, pregnant women, former foster children under age 26, the disabled, and those over age 65, Smith said.
Additionally, Smith said his office needs to upgrade its database and jail records software because the company with which it worked has gone out of business.
Smith said there is a significant increase in the Virginia Information Technologies Agency for Emergency Notifications, which notifies residents in the event of an emergency.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman presented her office’s budget to county supervisors, as did Commissioner of Revenue Janet Rorrer, and Treasurer Sandra Stone.
Circuit Court Clerk Susan Gasperini was not there to present her budget in person due to a jury trial.
All the budgets presented were agreed to by supervisors.