Supervisors take hard look at proposed tax increases

Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Apr 04, 2013 - 01:13 PM

Gloucester supervisors came to a consensus during Wednesday night’s work session to keep the county’s boat tax at $1 per $100 of assessed value.

Board members also seemed leery of raising the real estate tax rate, which combined, could force up to $2.1 million to be cut out of the county’s proposed fiscal year 2013-14 budget.

The board of supervisors adjourned the meeting, which was held in the colonial courthouse, taking home with them information to make tough decisions on what they are willing to cut from the county’s budget in order to minimize or eliminate any tax increase.

County administrator Brenda Garton’s proposed $138 million fiscal year 2014 budget calls for a four-cent increase in the county’s real estate tax rate as well as a $1.95 increase on the rate at which boats are assessed.

Garton said each penny of the real estate tax generates approximately $400,000 in additional revenue ($1.6 million for four cents), while the increase in the boat tax would add roughly $600,000 to the county’s coffers.

VIMS marine business and coastal development specialist Tom Murray was invited to the meeting to speak on the economic impact that raising the boat tax $1.95 may make on the community. Though he said the relationship is very complex, raising the tax rate on boats impacts the larger vessels more than the smaller ones.

Murray said it is his hope to see consistency among the localities “to level the playing field” for the business community.

He also said it’s a variety of factors that guide a boat owner where to locate his or her vessel such as amenities and proximity to their favorite fishing spots. “It may not just be the tax rate,” Murray said.

Petsworth district supervisor John Northstein said people he has talked to across the county are not happy with the proposed increase on the boat tax.

Gloucester Point district supervisor Chris Hutson cautioned his fellow board members before jumping into a decision such as not increasing the boat tax. “We should look at everything combined before we make a decision,” Hutson said. He did say the tax should not be increased by the amount proposed.

At-large supervisor Ashley Chriscoe said he’s still not in favor of a tax increase at all, but was apprehensive about making that type of decision on a night of a work session not televised and that did not allow public comment.

Real estate rate

After reaching a consensus on the boat tax rate, the board of supervisors did not commit Wednesday night to whether or not they would increase the real estate rate by the four cents Garton proposed.

“I think we’re at the point that we need to go home and think about what we’re willing to cut,” said at-large supervisor Louise Theberge. “There will be some serious ramifications to some of these cuts.”

One of the major things the tax increases would fund is to satisfy recommendations of the county’s pay scale study that showed many county employees are underpaid for their positions and workloads. The cost to bring employee salaries to where they should be, according to the study, is about $900,000.

Ware district supervisor Andy James suggested phasing in the pay adjustments over several years so to not put as much strain on this year’s budget.

Other supervisors criticized Garton’s reorganization of county departments, which would fill the former codes compliance director position with a second assistant county administrator.

“I understand the reallocation of positions,” Chriscoe said. “But there’s still the appearance in the county of growing government.”

Garton said that she wouldn’t be able to sleep Wednesday night without making another pitch for the pay study. “I need to at least make a stab for doing something for the staff,” Garton said. “I know it’s not popular, but I have to pressure you on behalf of the employees.”

Garton mentioned during the meeting that a fourth valuable staff member in a week is actively being recruited by another locality.

She said that if the pay study adjustments are not funded, the board should at least consider a 2 percent pay increase for all county employees.

“We don’t want the employees to think that they’re not important,” Orth said. “It’s a real difficult time for all of us and we can’t help the uncertainty and fear.”

“If I wasn’t a supervisor and was on the outside, I would have no complaint about being taxed a bigger rate,” Borden said. “But I represent a district and will do so to the best of my ability until my term ends. And a lot of my people can’t pay these taxes.”

The next scheduled work session on the budget is next Thursday, April 11. The board is expected to approve a budget at its April 16 meeting.