Board divided on added funding

Published 6:30 am Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors addressed during its regular November meeting a prior request from Farmville Area Community Emergency Services (FACES) Food Pantry for exemption from local taxation, and a motion was made to provide additional funding rather than an exemption, but the motion failed.

“If you recall during the April meeting, the Board of Supervisors received a request from FACES for local tax exemption,” he said. “Prior to Jan. 1 of 2003, all such requests had to be approved by the General Assembly. On 1 Jan. 2003, the constitution of Virginia was amended, and the General Assembly passed some amendments to the Code of Virginia that pushed that decision making down to local governments. Section 58.1-3651 contains the process that a local government would have to go through to provide tax exempt status from local taxation, and that included advertisements, adoption of an ordinance, etc.”

He added, “But the policy of the board for the last 16 years is not to approve any requests for tax exemption. That served the county well over the time, and at the June 11, (2019) meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the board reaffirmed the policy of not approving requests for tax exempt status.

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“At that meeting, the board cited the policy adopted in June 2016 regarding funding of non-county agencies and verbally affirmed the continuation of that policy but stated that each new request for additional funding support would be evaluated on its own merits once the board is presented a county tax bill,” he said.

The summary in the board meeting packet noted a listing of county funding allocated to outside agencies which totals $146,948. The tax bills submitted by FACES total $2,716.31.

“When you added that to the existing allocation, you’re a little under $149,000, and that amount is less than the cap of $150,000,” Bartlett said. “Plus, in that $149(,000), $10,000 of it is county recreation. I’m not sure we really should include that as an amount that we give out to other people.”

After providing some more details, Bartlett said, “The board would wish to consider the request from FACES if they so desire. We wouldn’t provide tax exemption. What we would do is provide them additional funding of that $2,716.31. That was what we were talking about doing — not providing exemption, but provide additional funding. We can do that. We have saved a considerable amount of funding from those open positions that we have, so we could do that if y’all (are) inclined to look at that.”

Farmville 701 District Supervisor and Board Chairman Jim Wilck said, “Do we need to vote on that now?”

“I would,” Bartlett said. “Yes, and I would increase the amount of funding for FACES by that $2,716.31 to be paid out of the fund balance for the General Fund.”

As Wilck was asking for a motion, Prospect District Supervisor J. David Emert said, “Before you do that, so we’re ($336) away from that cap, is that correct?”

“Yes,” Bartlett replied, but again called attention to the $10,000 listed under “county recreation.” “… The $10,000, it was kind of put in there as a deposit for future county recreation, but it wasn’t promised to anybody. And really, that’s not an outside agency. If you’re controlling it, it would be yourselves. … I wouldn’t consider that an outside agency, so I would probably take that $10,000 off there.”

Lockett District Supervisor Robert M. “Bobby” Jones said, “One thing with FACES, which it wouldn’t be a big amount, but as far as their tax on the personal property, it’s going to fluctuate.”

“Every year it’s going to fluctuate,” Bartlett said. “Oh, this is going to go up a lot next year, because if you look at this real estate, it is $250,000. That’s just the land.”

“Right,” Jones said. “Now you’ve got to include the building.”

Leigh District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman Jerry R. Townsend said, “We can change, but I thought that we stated that once we made a decision, we would only address emergencies.”

Bartlett said, “That’s what it says in the budget, unless there’s a two-thirds vote …”

“I’m not advocating that we don’t approve of it,” Townsend said. “I think we’re going against our own (rule).”

Reading the rule, Bartlett said, “‘Once the budget is approved for any fiscal year, the board will not consider any new or additional funding requested by an organization or board member except in case of an emergency. Additional funding provided due to an emergency will not be provided unless approved by two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors, and all members must be present to vote.’”

“I’m with you on that, Jerry,” Emert said. “This is not an emergency. It is a request, but it doesn’t qualify, period. Even with a two-thirds vote, it still doesn’t qualify.”

Townsend said, “And I’m not advocating that FACES is not a good organization. But we can’t keep bouncing back and forth. We set the rules, then next thing you know … We need to be consistent.”

“Now, item 7,” Bartlett said, “if you look at that, as I recall, that was put in there on purpose in case something new and out of the ordinary came up. Because it says all funds provided are subject to modification, reduction or can be completely rescinded without prior notification. Such action will require … two-thirds of the vote.”

Townsend said, “In other words, (if) it becomes an emergency, we can take back what we already appropriated or budgeted.”

“Item 7 doesn’t say anything about an emergency,” Bartlett said. “It says all of them are subject to modification. Now, of course, this was adopted by a different board. I don’t believe Mr. Emert, Mr. (Llew) Gilliam, Gene (A. Southall) were on the board when this was adopted. But it is a policy that can carry forward, and I believe it actually states that somewhere on here that one board cannot hold another accountable.”

Emert said, “I’m like you, Jerry. FACES, I’ve worked with them, and they’re a good organization, but I won’t vote to go against what we’ve already said. …”

Jones said, “We did more or less suggest that we were going to do the tax forgiveness, but if this thing, like I said with the building on it — we can look at it again next year.”

“That’s correct,” Emert said.

Jones said, “We’re not obligated to continue it, but I didn’t realize the property was going to be quite as valuable as what it is. And like I said, I don’t think it’s going to happen, but if they went out and bought a whole new fleet of trucks, that could bump that up a whole lot too. But I think that the fact that we did kind of, I don’t know, we didn’t commit with our vote, but we kind of said …”

After a brief discussion about vehicles used by FACES, Wilck returned to the previous line of comment regarding the tax bill when he said, “I do remember we had given our word sort of to them that it would be taken care of.”

“Bobby mentioned that we implied that it would be looked upon with, I’d say with strong favor,” Bartlett said. Referring to the board’s policy again, he said, “And if you look at the very first paragraph, it says this is meant to be a guide to the board, the policies intended to guide the board with its fiduciary responsibilities.”

Wilck said, “But I think what we said to them was if we couldn’t do it, just waiving it and whatnot, that we would give them an extra contribution to cover. I’m sure they’re counting on that.”

“We did,” Farmville 801 District Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones said.

“And that’s in the minutes,” Bartlett said. “It said, once you got — not just them, but anyway — got a tax bill, bring the tax so we’d know what it was. That’s up to the board.”

Wilck said, “Yeah, but as long as we’re not going back on our word on that.”

“Because I can guarantee you there will be others that will be coming,” Bartlett said.

“Sure, they are,” Townsend said. “They’re going to come back again next year.”

As Jones indicated that the return would be with a bigger bill, Townsend echoed and completed that thought.

“But now I’m not advocating at all,” he said. “(FACES does) a wonderful job, it’s a wonderful resource for the citizens, and again, we need to just be cognizant of what we agreed, our rules.”

Jones said, “I feel we would look mighty bad if we didn’t do it this year. We can re-address it next year when we see what the tax bill is …”

“We could look at that, and they’re done almost 100% with that building,” Bartlett said. “We should have an idea of what that will be assessed, and then we can look at that during the budget process, whatever that amount is.”

Jones said, “Alright, I make a motion that we go ahead and make the contribution to them for the $2,716.31.”

Cooper-Jones seconded the motion.

A split vote and abstentions followed.

“I missed something here,” Bartlett said as he sought to record the voting, and they revoted for clarity at Wilck’s instruction.

Voting in favor of the motion were Cooper-Jones, Jones and Wilck. Voting in opposition were Emert, Buffalo District Supervisor Llew Gilliam Jr. and Townsend. Abstaining were Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride and Farmville 101 District Supervisor Gene A. Southall.

“That’s a tie vote, and the tie votes fail,” Bartlett said.

After a brief pause, Wilck said, “Man, but we’ve already told them.”

A few moments later, Jones said, “Well, it would have had to have been a two-thirds vote in favor of too, right?”

“It had to be two-thirds,” Townsend said.

Bartlett said, “According to the policy.”

Townsend added, “It still wasn’t two-thirds either way.”