County approves tax hike in Wednesday vote

By Debbie Hall

Property owners in Patrick County will pay higher real estate taxes, after a majority of the Patrick County board of Supervisors on Wednesday voted to raise the real estate tax by .11 cents.

The rate will rise from .57 cents per $100 of assessed value to .68 cents.

Karl Weiss, vice chairman and of the Blue Ridge District, was among those to cast a majority vote in the 3-2 decision.

Weiss had indicated he would not support a tax hike unless the state planned to intervene.

“I found out just today that we would not be able to borrow money and that the state could come in and make recommendations” if the increase was not approved, Weiss said. “I don’t want that.”

The budget committee recommended the not more than .11 cents tax hike, along with refinancing certain debt and reapplying for a Revenue Anticipation Note (RAN), to make up a portion of the $3.1 shortfall in the proposed nearly $56 million budget. An estimated $1.5 million deficit will remain.

The vote came after several residents spoke at a public hearing Wednesday, with some taking the supervisors to task for running budget deficits since 2014, and using the county’s contingency fund to make up the shortfall. The fund is now nearly depleted.

Others said they can ill afford a tax increase.

But without the increase, County Administrator Tom Rose said he learned that the county could be restructured by the state and that it likely would not be able to refinance its debt. The county is under review by the state to determine whether it is in fiscal distress.

Rickie Fulcher, chairman and of the Peters Creek District, supported the tax hike. He said that the county must provide basic services to its residents, while looking toward next year’s budget.

“We are facing some serious things,” he said, adding that while the state cannot “come in and take over, it can be a big stressor.”

State officials, armed with the decision Wednesday, planned to continue the review, Fulcher said, adding that the state is not trying “to discredit or bash you. They’re trying to come in to help you.”

Crystal Harris, of the Smith River District, said she felt supporting the increase is “fiscally responsible in helping the county to get out of debt. This is the hardest decision I’ve had to make, but I support” the bid to raise taxes.

Lock Boyce, of the Mayo River District, and Jane Fulk of the Dan River District, both voted against the increase.

“When I ran for office, I said raising taxes was not the way to go,” Fulk said. “We need infrastructure” and economic development. “I cannot support this tax increase. The most I could support is .5 cents. We need to look at something else.”

Boyce noted potentially cutting an increase proposed by Patrick County Schools, as well as taking a bigger portion of the Transient Occupancy Tax – which funds tourism initiatives in the county – as ways to cut spending. He also said a conversion to hard billing for emergency services would increase revenues, as would hiring Rose to fill the vacant post of director of Economic Development.

Rose “has got jobs here, he’s kept jobs here; he already knows the ropes, he knows the contacts and he knows the job,” Boyce said.

The board did not comment or take action on any of those proposals.

After the meeting, Weiss said neither the Dan River nor the Mayo River district “carries their weight. They always vote ‘No’” to increase taxes.

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