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Supervisors look back at tax rate decision

With the delta variant surging and the economic recovery in question, a couple members of the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors expressed a desire to take another look at the county’s tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.

The discussion came up during the board member comments period of the Tuesday, Aug. 10, board meeting.

The board settled on a 47- cent tax rate per $100 valuation for the 2021-22 fiscal year back in April. The new rate was a four-cent increase over the revenue-neutral rate of 43 cents per $100 valuation. The board approved the 47-cent rate with the idea of putting approximately $600,000 in a capital improvement fund to be used for a list of projects over the coming years.

But with the county currently flush with cash, Supervisor Bobby Jones said the board should reconsider the 47-cent rate although the fiscal year began July 1. Jones was one of three supervisors who voted against the tax increase back in April.

Jones said the county’s most recent financial report shows it has $10 million more dollars in the bank than it had last year.

Jones went through the capital improvement list with the board and said the total of all the projects, except for a possible new $34 million elementary school, adds up to less than $9 million.

“We need to look out for our citizens,” Jones said. “Is there any way we can go back and revisit our tax (rate)?”

Jones said he has been hurt by the tax increase, as have other people.

“I’m involved in business and I pay taxes, and it hurts me, and it hurts a lot of other people too,” Jones said. “They can’t purchase equipment. They can’t keep employees, and we’ve got 10 million more dollars in our account.”

Dr. Odessa Pride pushed back against the idea, telling Jones the county needs to maintain a strong fund balance in order to maintain a high bond rating in case the county needs to borrow money for large projects.

“If we just go, because we see it, and just spend it all up, then where does that leave us if there is an emergency that hits us?” she said.

Board Chairman David Emert, who also voted against the April increase, said he has heard from several citizens in the past month concerning the impact of the tax increase.

“I’ve heard from several people,” Emert said. “I don’t know what we can do, but I know there’s a lot of people out there that are struggling as far as money is concerned.”

County Administrator Doug Stanley said the amount of additional cash will not really be known until the annual county audit is finished the third week of October. He said $5 million of the additional cash may be because a reallocation had not been completed. Stanley also said a relocation of the Prince Edward County Rescue Squad may be in the works in the future as well as some additional landfill expense in the coming years.

“I appreciate Supervisor Jones’ concerns about the constituents,” Stanley said. “Some will see an increase as we talked about. Some may see a decrease, but I think getting through this next audit cycle, we will know better where we stand.”

There was some discussion about how such a reversal could be done logistically. It was unclear exactly how the process would work since tax bills will be going out in a month or so.

Emert and Jones said it is likely too late to change the rate now but added it is something they will look at in the future.

“I realize it’s probably too late to do it now, but I wish we had voted differently back when we had the opportunity,” Jones said.