Buckingham board approves two-cent tax increase

Published 6:00 am Friday, April 24, 2020

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The Buckingham County Board of Supervisors voted 4-3 Monday, April 20, to set the property tax rate at 52 cents per $100 of assessed value for the coming fiscal year. An equalized tax rate to make up for this year’s 10% assessment increase would have been 50 cents per $100, meaning most taxpayers will be paying more in the coming year.

The board had been considering a 10% effective tax increase which would have put the rate at 55 cents. 

Robert C. “Bobby” Jones

Several board members were opposed to moving lower than the 55-cent rate. District 1 Supervisor Robert Jones called it a “terrible mistake.”

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When the board convened Monday night to set the tax rate and subsequently approve the budget, Buckingham County Administrator Rebecca Carter explained some board members wished to consider giving taxpayers some sort of tax relief in response to the financial hardships of the ongoing COVID crisis, whether that be a lower effective rate increase than the 10% increase that had been advertised, or an extension of time to pay June taxes.

Carter added the county is projected to lose approximately $500,000 for the remainder of this fiscal year and possibly more than $1 million in FY21. She then showed budget numbers that could make lowering the proposed tax rate possible.

The supervisors considered a 1% reduction in total expenditures. The reduction did not include money for debt service, committed reserves or funds budgeted for the animal control facility. Carter said anything less than a 51-cent rate would leave the budget unbalanced and deplete the county’s reserve for contingency (RFC).

Additionally, as the real estate tax and state corporation tax must be equal, the county would lose an additional $56,000 of state corporation tax for every penny below 55 cents the property tax rate was lowered. Since the new projected real estate taxes budgeted due to the reassessment came to a value of $600,000, the county would lose a total of $176,000 for every penny the rate was reduced by.

District 3 Supervisor and Vice Chairman Don Matthews made a motion to set the rate at 52 cents, which was seconded by District 4 Supervisor Thomas Jordan Miles III.

Jones voiced his disapproval.

“I understand we’re trying to help our constituents and also at the same time be in the category of being not frivolous about what we’re spending money on and breaking it down,” he said. “To me, if we turn around and start bringing down the rate, I think that we’re making a terrible mistake.”

Jones felt if the supervisors wanted to help their citizens they should consider curtailing tax payment deadlines and certain fines associated with collection.

“If we reduce the taxes it won’t be five months and you’ll want to put it back up,” Jones said. “In helping the citizens of our county, it ain’t going to do nothing. It’s going to just cost us money, so I can’t see us doing it. ”

“I’m pretty much in line with Mr. Jones,” District 7 Supervisor Danny Allen said.

Allen felt that residents struggling financially would see the most benefit in eliminating real estate tax interest and late penalties for a set amount of time, as most taxpayers would not see a dramatic difference in their taxes if the rate was lowered a few cents. 

Miles said he believed a 52-cent rate was a good compromise and the 1% reduction across the board would still leave the county financially sound.

“Unemployment is skyrocketing and I think there’s no doubt that we’re going to have to revisit this in about a year,” Miles said. “People are having hard times right now and I think right now is the time for us to step up and show them that we’re trying to offer them some relief in this capacity.”

District 2 Supervisor Donnie Bryan told the board even if the proposed rate of 55 cents was lowered, it would inevitably need to be raised the next year. He asked Carter about the savings an average taxpayer would see from the reduction. Carter explained a property valued at $200,000 would pay $1,100 if the tax rate were to stay at 55 cents and $1,040 at 52 cents, a savings of $60.

“We’re looking at something that doesn’t really amount to anything as being help to the citizens, and we know it’s going to cost us money next year, so why in the world would we want to turn around and reduce the rate when we know that is not the thing to do?” asked Jones. “To me, it’s ridiculous. We have been conservative. This is not being conservative.”

District 5 Supervisor and Chairman Harry Bryant, Matthews, Miles and District 6 Supervisor Joe Chambers voted to approve the 52-cent tax rate. Jones, Bryan and Allen voted no.

When the vote was called to approve the remainder of the tax rates, all supervisors voted yes except for Jones, who abstained. The rest of the supervisors also voted yes to approve the FY21 budget. Jones abstained.

“I’ve been on the board almost 10 years now,” Jones said after the meeting. “I think it’s the biggest mistake the board has ever made. If you want to help your citizens I can see extending when you have to pay and stuff like that, not reduce the rate, because it’s going to cost us money to reduce the rate like they did.”