By Taylor Boyd
In a 3-2 vote, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors narrowly held the line on real estate taxes, after hearing input on a proposed increase of up to 5-cents.
The board did not set the personal property tax rate. The current rate is $1.71 per $100 of assessed value, according to County Administrator Geri Hazelwood.
When making the motion last week to keep real estate taxes at 68-cents per $100 of assessed value for fiscal year 2021- 2022, Dr. Clyde DeLoach said he appreciates the situation that many people are in.
“I’m one of those who are on the downhill side of life, and so I understand. I’m living on social security and what I can make on a side job, and of course this (Board of Supervisors seat),” he said.
DeLoach, of the Blue Ridge District, said the board is in a serious position and it needs to do something. “I still hold out hope we can find a way to do it without increasing real estate tax. Maybe I’m just a Pollyanna, but I think we can. I’m not promising we won’t look at something else, some other tax, but I just hope we can avoid it,” he said.
Jane Fulk, of the Dan River District, and Clayton Kendrick, of the Mayo River District, both seconded the motion.
“I know we lost a plant, which is going to put us in bad shape,” Fulk said of the impending shut-down of the Hanesbrands facility in Woolwine. “I’m hopeful that we can find some way to do this, but I cannot support a tax raise. You have had people with COVID who have lost jobs, who have had to bury loved ones, who have lost incomes. We are just in no shape to raise taxes.”
“I don’t see with this bad of a year and losing jobs and other sources of taxes and COVID and the hardships that people have had, I just can’t see raising taxes this year,” she added.
Kendrick said he researched real estate taxes of neighboring counties prior to the meeting.
“Carroll County currently has 73-cents per $100 assessed evaluation, but they’re having a hearing in April prosing they lower theirs to 69 cents,” he said, and added that Franklin County’s current real estate tax is 61-cents per $100 and Floyd County’s is 60 cents per $100. “Henry County, of course I know they’ve got a lot of other sources of taxes that we don’t have. Theirs is $1.55 for personal property and real estate is” 55-cents, he said.
“This is probably the most difficult part of this job. I will tell you with losing a business that’s about $150,00 a year, that’s one cent on the tax levy,” Denise Stirewalt, of the Peters Creek District, said.
Stirewalt said she voted against keeping the real estate tax the same because she felt like the board had no other choice.
“It is the most difficult thing because I love my neighbors and I understand the predicament, and the senior citizens are suffering, everybody’s suffering now. It’s very difficult. I hurt for you and I hurt with you. I don’t know what else to do,” she said.
“I did not run that I would never raise taxes, I ran the first year that I would not raise taxes the first year until I saw the financial state we were in,” she added when the question arose.
Crystal Harris, chairman and of the Smith River District, also voted against the motion.
“I’ve been the most conservative person. I was a naysayer, and it hurt this county,” said Harris, who does not plan to seek reelection in November.
“The burden has been lifted,” Harris said, and added that many expenses are state mandated. The biggest portion of the budget is spent on the education and public safety categories.
In Patrick County, Public Safety not only includes the sheriff’s department and fire and rescue, but also Building Inspection, Harris said.
If requests from fire and rescue are honored “that’s two cents on the levy. Social Services would be one cent on the levy,” Harris said, and before the vote, sought input from Commissioner of Revenue Janet Rorrer and Treasurer Sandra Stone.
Both declined, noting the board is charged with that decision.
If the board failed to approve the increase, Harris said fire and rescue would be cut, “and that’s where my heart and soul” is.
“We took in $191,000 in the meals tax. That could be used for fire and rescue if we wanted to,” Fulk said.
Stirewalt said the board cut almost $1 million out of the budget last year.
“We took away fire and rescue, volunteer fire and rescue, and like Mrs. Harris said, if we want to fund that, then that is an increase in taxes. That is a service we are offering. We could take away DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). That’s a service we wouldn’t have to offer. That department does not make money, it does not pay for itself,” Stirewalt said.
“There are so many things we have to weigh. The county part of the budget, the county employees are the least. They’ve been cut and cut and cut until there’s hardly anything left for them,” she said.
Kendrick said the board is still working on the budget. “I believe there’s still a lot of stuff that we can cut without really ruining anything.”
He said the county received a shot in the arm this year with federal pandemic funds. More are expected for the upcoming fiscal year, and “there should be some stuff that can offset, and I still think we can do it without a tax increase.”
DeLoach said he hopes people understand the board is doing the best it can.
“We really swept through it, and there are lots of mandates that we have no control over. We have about 30-cents left for us to deal with. So that means when we start slicing, it’s on 30 cents. As a pastor, I still have a crazy notion of faith, and I have faith that somehow, we can get through this without increasing the real estate tax this year. I’m not promising next year,” he said, and quipped, “don’t come after me.”
“Are you going to be prepared to cut those people that want extra employees,” Harris said. DeLoach replied that he is willing to explain the budget and his vote.