Thursday, April 10, 2014

Property Tax in Chesterfield County, VA (An Update)

by Floyd Bayne

Today was one of those days that only served to solidify my loathing for politicians and the political games they play.

I  attended a meeting of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, which started at 3:00 p.m. (imagine that). The Board was supposed to vote on the long proposed property/real estate tax increase that is supposed to pay for school upgrades, reduced pupil-teacher ratios in the classrooms, and public safety. You know, all the things that are meant to tug at the old heart-strings. Things which no one dare speak against lest you be labeled a hater of education, teachers, and police/fire-fighters. You see, commonsense and frugality never enter into the picture, just emotion based pleas for more money.

Anyway, As the meeting progressed and the vote was about to be called, Midlothian District representative, Dan Gecker (Independent) took the floor and asked for consideration of his desire to postpone the vote. He cited work that he had "been up all night" doing in preparation for this meeting. You see, Mr. Gecker had found a lot of cuts that could be made to the budget, rather than going for a tax increase. Now, if you recall, last November the citizens of Chesterfield voted for a spending referendum to upgrade the schools, etc., as I mentioned earlier. However, they also voted against the  meals tax that was supposed to fund those improvements. I will not go into that cognitive disconnect at this time. Immediately after that vote the talk began about how the county was simply going to have to raise some tax, probably the real estate tax, in order to fund the referendum. So, that's most of November, December, January, February, March, and now early April, that they have had to go over the budget, find areas where spending could be cut and prepare for the new budget. Got it?

To Mr. Gecker's credit he actually upset the apple cart that is BoS meetings, by bringing this up, albeit at the last minute, and making it clear that the budget goals could be achieved without immediately jumping to the old standby of a tax increase. Excuse me, guys, but you've had the better part of four months to go over this and you're just now willing to acknowledge that CUTS can be made? Mr. Gecker then went on to cite some specific areas that he had determined could be cut. I will attempt to go over some of them and for simplicity sake will round the numbers to whole. He began by stating that if implemented, the three-cent tax increase would amount to $9 million in the budget to pay for the referendum items. If left as is the budget would see $6 million come in. The difference being $3 million. How then to make up that difference without the tax increase?

On the chopping block, but up for debate are:

Tourism Support - $96,600
Commuter Bus Routes (which serve only 210 people) - $$368,000
Four additional police officers (Yes, just four) - $$498,000
Center for Education Management (A school board and its bureaucracy isn't enough?) - $80,000
Defer building Reams Road Library - $700,000
Unencumbered Buildings (Whatever that is) - $2.2 million
and another $3.2 million for which I was unable to hear the names.

But bear in mind that this is just a brief list that Gecker put together last night. If he can find that much in just one night imagine what can be found in a couple of weeks. The point that must be made is that only now are they talking about cuts, when folks like you and I have been screaming from the rooftops about cuts for months, Nay, years now. But whenever we speak of cuts we are looked at as if we must hate children, hate education, hate teachers. We are called names and told how mean and unenlightened we are. You see, in order to fund things, anythings, we must always have a tax increase, according to the political class.

Never spoken of in these meetings is the difference between needs and wants. Just as you and I must make that decision every day, so too must those responsible for the public's money. I have driven the same car now for twelve-years. Not because I am so in love with it that I don't want a new car, but because we simply cannot afford a new one, so we made a decision not to purchase that which we do not really need. I have not bought an extra television for the bedroom or a 60-inch flat screen high-definition television for the family room. I would love to have both, but they are not needs. My wife and I make sure we can pay our mortgage and the bills that keep our lights on and heat/AC working, as well as food on the table , and clothes to wear. The wants/luxuries will have to wait. That is the private sector real life application of frugality. When using the people's money our elected representatives have an obligation to be even more frugal, tight, wise, whatever word suits you, with that money. The needs and ONLY the needs take precedence, and that at the most minimal cost possible. That is the responsibility they bear when spending our money.

You may ask, "Why are they finally talking about cuts, Floyd?" Well, I'll tell you why I think they are -BECAUSE OF YOU! My representative on the Board, Art Warren (Republican, Cloverhill), a career politician if there ever was one, made it clear that he had heard from over a hundred of his constituents and over 90% of them were against the tax increase. Others on the Board stated that they too had been receiving hundreds of e-mails and phone calls. Yes, you are making a difference. I had to stifle a response when I heard Warren say, "We have a fiduciary responsibility to spend the taxpayers money wisely." If it weren't for the deputy sheriffs stationed throughout the auditorium I would have yelled, "THEN WHY THE HELL DID IT TAKE THIS LONG TO LOOK FOR CUTS?!" I behaved myself and kept quiet - this time.

There are those who have actually stated, "Hey, it's only three-cents, it's no big deal." That may be true if Chesterfield operated in a vacuum, but we do not. We just got the biggest tax increase in our state's history last year, thank you Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, we continue to see taxes at the federal level go up and now there is talk, yet again, about taxing Internet purchases. So, add to all the taxes we now pay, at all levels of government, and YES, it is a damn big thing to me. All we ever hear is how we must be able to fund this program or that department, or pay so-and-so more, so we need a tax increase. The government cannot afford a tax cut is the refrain oft heard. Yet no one ever asks, "Can the taxpayers afford a tax increase?" This madness must stop.

What do we do now? The vote has been delayed for two-weeks from today. Keep up the pressure. Call, e-mail, snail mail, visit their office, write letters to the newspaper, make your voice heard. Let them know that there will be consequences if they keep adding to our financial burden. Elections are in their future and we will remember how they vote.

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