Real estate tax increase decision delayed after School Board says tax hike not needed

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Apr. 21, 2018 | 2:15 p.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – A decision on a proposal to raise the county’s real estate tax rate for the coming year has been tabled until the Prince George Board of Supervisors’ next meeting on April 24 following concerns from citizens and supervisors alike about the need to implement an increase during the upcoming fiscal year.

As part of County Administrator Percy Ashcraft’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year, a five-cent increase to the county’s real estate tax rate and mobile home/tangible property rate, raising both of them to 91 cents per $100 of assessed value was included to help pay for one new elementary school after school leaders suggested that Walton and Beazley elementary schools are in need of a replacement.

Complete Coverage: Prince George FY2019 Budget Building
Reporting By: Michael Campbell, News Editor

The proceeds gained from the five-cent tax increase would be fully devoted to the school capital project of building one elementary school as both school leaders and county officials have expressed their interest in modifying the joint memorandum of understanding, or MOU between the Prince George School Board and county, which dictates what percentage of specific revenue sources would be provided to the schools as part of the county’s annual contribution to the school division. 

Per the Code of Virginia, before any changes to the county’s tax rate can go forward, a public hearing must be held and, once the tax rates are advertised for the public hearing, they can only be decreased from their advertised values, not increased.

Tuesday evening’s public hearing saw many speak in favor of supporting the county’s school division but thought placing the burden on the taxpayer was not the right direction, suggesting the county look at making cuts in other places to make the expected $29 million new school financially feasible without passing the costs to the county taxpayer.

“I support our schools, but enough is enough,” one resident said during the public hearing. “I have not seen much benefit from these year-after-year tax increases. I get that we need to support schools but I am not a bank and I don’t have a money tree in my backyard.”

“I hear a lot of talk about special interests but I haven’t heard anything from this board about what you’re doing to protect the taxpayer,” the resident closed.

Another resident, Allen Kenyan, echoed the words of many who spoke during Tuesday’s hearing, supporting the schools in their needs but posing the question to county leaders if the millions that would be needed to build a new school can come from other sources while pointing to neighboring localities who have lower rates than Prince George County’s proposed rate for the upcoming year. 

“I am all for the schools getting more money for new schools,” Kenyan remarked, “but I don’t think it should be done through a tax increase. There is only county with a tax rate that is higher and that is Chesterfield. Everyone else is lower.”

Of the communities that surround Prince George – Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Sussex, Surry, and Charles City – and a couple others further north – Henrico and Hanover, the county’s proposed tax rate of 91 cents per $100 of assessed value is second-highest among those localities, only topped by Chesterfield, whose current real estate tax rate of 96 cents is expected to be reduced by one penny to 95 cents in the upcoming year.

Dinwiddie has adopted their tax rate for the 2019 financial year, opting to remain at its current rate of 79 cents per $100 of assessed value. Across the James River in Charles City County, the FY2018 real estate tax rate sits at 76 cents.

As of the 2018 fiscal year, Sussex and Surry counties had a real estate tax rate of 58 cents and 71 cents respectively.

Further north, closer to the Richmond-Metro area, the counties of Hanover and Henrico each have a real estate tax levy of 81 cents and 87 cents per $100 of assessed in place.

“I think that we should be treated more fairly and the tax rate should be reduced,” Kenyan continued. “The money for this should be obtained through cuts elsewhere in the budget.”

In addition, resident Johnnie Nugent continued off of Kenyan’s comments by suggesting that supervisors “take a deep dive into spending going on in the county” and wondered why this year’s budget only featured an increase to real estate and mobile home/tangible property, but not other areas, such as machinery and tools.

Those two revenue sources – real estate and mobile home/tangible property taxes – were the only two that were advertised to see increases, with the remaining tax rates being advertised at their current levels with no proposed raises in them. With the tax levies for the upcoming fiscal year having now been already advertised publicly and a hearing has been conducted, supervisors are unable to increase any of the tax rates from the levels that were advertised to the public due to state law, meaning supervisors can only lower the tax rate from the advertised levels, which saw some residents entertain the notion of forgoing the proposed tax increase completely.

“Both Walton and Beazley [elementary schools] need to be replaced, but I am not for raising taxes this year,” substitute teacher and resident Leila Holmes said, citing recent talk by the school division that shows school leaders are still in the process of scouting sites for the new elementary school.

Those comments were further supported by Prince George County School Board Chair Robert Cox who was the last person to speak during last Tuesday’s public hearing, commenting that while “they could build a school in 15 months,” the school division has decided to take “a slower approach,” using North Elementary School as a prototype for what the school could look like when completed.

“We don’t need to raise taxes for the schools tonight,” Chairman Cox said to supervisors prior to the closure of the public hearing.

Following those words and over ten minutes of comments from residents, Supervisor T.J. Webb made the motion to defer a decision on raising the county’s real estate tax rate while supervisors did accept the rest of the county’s tax levies for the upcoming year, with the county’s personal property tax rate – currently $4.25 per $100 of assessed value – and machinery and tools tax rate – currently $1.50 per $100 of assessed value – remaining the same with no changes for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Even though the county advertised a five-cent increase to the mobile home/tangible property rate, supervisors Tuesday evening opted to not move forward on that increase and instead voted to keep it at its current level of 86-cents per $100 of assessed value.

Discussion of the proposed increase to the county’s real estate tax is expected to continue at the Board of Supervisors’ next meeting on April 24.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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