Greene County taxpayers will not pay more in real estate taxes in fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1, the supervisors decided at their virtual April 28 meeting. The supervisors decided to hold off approving a budget until their June 9 meeting.
When the proposed $64,533,833 county budget was drafted we were living in a different world. The state’s unemployment rate was less than 3% and the General Assembly approved several new funding initiatives. That was before schools closed, universities went online, businesses closed and the unemployment rate grew. Now, Gov. Ralph Northam has “unallotted” numerous of those spending initiatives, local transient occupancy taxes (TOT) are expected to be down, local sales and use taxes are expected to be lower and the county has learned that the University of Virginia Health System plans to cancel its contract to provide emergency medical services (EMS) on Oct. 14.
“We are in a situation of being thrust from cautious, or reasonable, optimism to the edge of uncertainty,” said Mark Taylor, Greene County’s administrator. “At the end of the second quarter (December), real estate tax revenue was up significantly, personal property tax revenue was up significantly, sales and use tax revenue was up significantly, transient occupancy tax was up notably, solid waste operations revenue was up notably and expenditures were just a bit below the target level.”
TOT is the 5% added to the bill for overnight stays, with 3% allocated for tourism and 2% to the county general fund.
The proposed fiscal year 2021 budget was built on a 2-cent increase in real estate and public service corporation taxes. No one spoke in favor of that increase during the public hearing April 28 and the supervisors voted unanimously to keep the rate at 82 cents per $100 of assessed value rates.
However, Taylor told supervisors he wasn’t sure what was coming for the county and what other areas in the budget could find savings while also building the reserve fund.
“We have a lot of long-term concerns about the economic recovery from the pandemic to which we have no answers,” Taylor said. “Will the past three quarters of revenue that had been above projections buffer the drop that we are seeing and expecting to see in the fourth quarter? Amidst all the uncertainly, our county needs have, in fact, increased.”
In addition to the EMS concerns, Taylor said the water supply project and courthouse repairs and lack of a robust county reserve were factors in the proposed budget.
Taylor said he doesn’t expect the June 5 real estate collection to be down because many use escrow accounts through their banks to save for their tax payments. He said he has been asked if the county planned to extend the collection date, but he said the county cannot afford that.
“We have investigated and we have found we lack the reserves and cash flow sufficient to allow for a delay in tax billing or a delay in our due date,” Taylor said. “There is no room to find relief by reduction in the proposed budget to the best of our ability. The budget adoption itself, which is scheduled for your first meeting in May, can at the board’s pleasure, be delayed until June 9.”
The school division is expecting a large shortfall from the state for the final quarter of fiscal year 2020, Taylor said, and less money for fiscal year 2021. Taylor said they were still waiting for final figures.
Greene County School Board Chair Sharon Mack told the supervisors there isn’t much savings by having the buildings closed to students.
“The reality is that while we may have some small savings to fuel or substitutes or materials or supplies, a great percentage of our budget is to pay for people,” Mack said. “Our teachers are still working, they’re still educating. They’re just doing it in a different way. Additionally, we’ve had increases in cleaning costs and costs to continue feeding children in our community.”
Ruckersville resident James Murphy said with or without COVID-19 that the board of supervisors needs to stop raising taxes. The supervisors raised the real estate tax rate by 5 cents for fiscal 2020.
“You know, COVID or not, you the members of board have been elected to be good stewards of our money. Unfortunately, this board has not had a good track record of doing this,” Murphy said. “If you keep increasing spending and raising our taxes, here’s the fact, you are going to throw our county into financial ruin and likely bankruptcy. Our county cannot weather just that alone, let alone all the punches that we’re getting with COVID.”
Stanardsville residents Paige and Doug Roberts emailed a comment to the board that Taylor read to the supervisors during the public hearing.
“I’m writing to oppose any new real estate tax increases,” the comment read. “Residents in this community have been forced to tighten our budgets. And it’s unconscionable to think our county can’t do the same at a time like this. We request you vote this down and find a way to cut expenses, like we’ve all had to do.”
Monroe District Supervisor Steve Bowman said prior to the coronavirus pandemic he thought a 2-cent increase was reasonable.
“I believe we need a reserve for an emergency, however, since that time we have undergone quite a stress and at this point I am not confident that raising taxes is the right thing to do,” Bowman said. “I’m very concerned about the EMS and I very much want a quality EMS delivery system for citizens of this county.”
He suggested the possibility of a mid-year tax increase if it becomes necessary for EMS and if the emergency has been lifted.
“I have to agree somewhat with Mr. Bowman’s statement about prior to COVID-19,” said Midway Supervisor Marie Durrer. “I’m really torn. I don’t want to raise it, but I can see where we need a little extra. We have got a lot facing us.”
At-Large Supervisor Dale Herring said the only way he’d support an increase in any tax would be to pay for EMS.
“That would be the only thing at this point that I feel comfortable that I could approve or adjust the tax (rate) increase,” Herring said. “At this point, I’m not sure we have enough information to do that.”
Taylor said there will be difficult decisions ahead, and would bring any new information that comes in from the state to the board as soon as it’s known.
The board approved a $5 tax per $100 of assessed value for personal property except for machinery and livestock, which are zero. Industrial machine and tools tax remains $2.50 per $100 of assessed value. Per the Personal Property Tax Relief Act of 1998, personal use vehicles valued at $1,000 or less are eligible for 100% relief from personal property taxes. Personal use vehicles valued from $1,001 to $20,000 are eligible for 43% tax relief and personal use vehicles valued at $20,001 or more will receive 43% tax relief on the first $20,000 of value and the regular rate for anything above that amount.
The supervisors’ next meeting is Tuesday, May 12 at 7:30 p.m. Visit www.gcva.gov for information about whether it’s a virtual meeting or in-person meeting.