By Nancy Lindsey
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Monday night to propose a real estate tax increase from the current 54.5 cents per $100 assessed value to 57 cents per hundred, to be discussed at a public hearing on Wednesday, March 30.
County Administrator Tom Rose made the initial recommendation to raise the rate to 57 cents, noting that at the public hearing, “we can lower the rate but we can’t raise it.”
“No, no, no!” Mayo River District Supervisor Lock Boyce said. “You raised taxes last year. You’re hurting people; taxes are already too high.”
Boyce said he spoke with an elderly lady who said it took a month of her annual income to pay the taxes on her “modest house.”
“We’ve got a large amount of surplus funds, and people are lined up to get their hands on the money and waste it for us,” Boyce said. “We waste a ton of money in this county…We should set a decent tax rate and shoehorn the budget into it.”
The taxpayers who are hurt by taxes don’t show up at the meetings, Boyce said, because they have to work. “They are the ones who support us,” he said.
Boyce recommended that the tax rate be reduced from 54.5 cents per hundred to 47 cents.
“We’ve got a tremendous wad of money stacked up just sitting there,” Boyce said. “The tax-wasters are reaching out their hands and salivating.”
With such a huge amount of money available to the board, Blue Ridge District Supervisor Karl Weiss said, “I make a motion to set the rate at zero.”
“This is not a joke,” Boyce said.
“I’m not laughing,” Weiss said.
Boyce said he “had been told” the board had a surplus of $6.1 million.
Patrick County Treasurer Sandra Stone said the board’s contingency fund has about $2.5 million, but not $6.1 million, “no way, no how.”
In the event of a financial catastrophe, Stone said, the $2.5 million could be wiped out in one payroll for county employees.
Smith River District Supervisor Crystal Harris said when the real estate tax rate was raised seven years ago, in 2009, “I almost had a stroke.” The vote was 4 to 1 then, with Harris voting against it, she said.
“I’ve always been very conservative,” Harris said. “I pay taxes the same as everyone. I get Social Security. I’m the aging population.”
Harris said she has been listening to what’s going on and being discussed for the past six months, and has reached the conclusion that something must be done about the emergency medical services (EMS) problems, “if we care about the people in our county and our communities.”
She suggested that the board raise the real estate rate by 1.5 cents and “dedicated to EMS.”
Peters Creek District Supervisor Rickie Fulcher said the board’s action Monday was not to raise the rate, but to bring it up for discussion at the public hearing.
“I challenge you, Mr. Boyce, to show me where we’ve been wasteful,” Fulcher said.
“Since my motion died for lack of a second, I’ll second Mrs. Harris’ motion, with the condition it goes for a paid EMS service,” Weiss said.
Dan River District Supervisor Roger Hayden, board chairman, advised the supervisors not to combine the tax rate with the EMS issue. “Set the tax rate and then figure out the budget,” he said.
County Attorney Alan Black said the motion to adopt a tax rate would have to come after the public hearing.
Hayden said the county is not ready for a tax increase and won’t be until the economy improves. Nineteen thousand jobs have been lost in manufacturing, textiles and tobacco, he said.
“Livestock prices have decreased dramatically,” Boyce said. “My open land is assessed at the same value as Primland. Are you going to make it so you have to be really rich to own property? Can we look at where the money’s going and being wasted?”
Boyce said for the past eight years, there has been efficient government in Patrick County. Before that, there were “some very bad supervisors” who “spent tax money on any shiny object they could find” and spent the contingency fund down to nothing, he said.
Fulcher said he has heard statements that he got on the board to raise taxes. That was not true, he said, but the money to run the government has got to come from somewhere.
Fulcher pointed out that a 2.5 cent increase in the tax rate would mean an increase of $20.50 on a home valued at $100,000.
Fulcher made the motion that the tax rate be proposed at 57 cents per $100, and the budget “dissected” later.
Weiss seconded the motion, with Harris voting in favor. Hayden and Boyce voted against the motion.
The board then voted 4-1 to hold the public hearing at 6:30 p.m. on March 30. Hayden voted no.
Rose said the proposed rate, if passed, would generate about $390,000 in additional revenues.
As the board started delving into the proposed budget, Boyce recommended that the supervisors cut their own salaries by 30%. “We ought to be volunteer,” he said.
“The only fair way is across the board,” Hayden said. “Is the only thing you can come up with is cutting the supervisors’ pay?”
“If he wants to donate his back, it can go to the road money,” Weiss said.
“Don’t go on about the roads,” Hayden said, referring to the $500,000 the board plans to spend (with matching funds from the state) to pave dirt roads in every district.
“I didn’t vote for the road money but this old girl is going to stand up and fight for every penny my district deserves,” Harris said.
Boyce said if the supervisors need their salaries so much, “you could be bought pretty easy.”
“Don’t stand up here and tell me we can be bought,” Weiss said.
“I resent it,” Hayden said, “and I expect you to apologize to this board.”
There was no apology.
Boyce said if the board wouldn’t support a cut, maybe it would at least support no raise. (The budget contains 3% salary increases for all county employees.)
There were no further motions at that time.
The board delved into the budget, flipping through pages of department requests without cutting any items.
The sheriff’s office, 911 dispatch center and school budget will be discussed at a later date—probably March 30.