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James City County Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) came down hard against a proposed tax increase at a community meeting Thursday, saying the county should make do with what it already has.
County Administrator Bryan Hill has proposed a real estate tax rate increase of 8.2 cents per $100 of assessed value — an 11 percent overall increase in the tax — to address what he has identified as five key issues: the county’s fiscal health, schools, stormwater, county appearance and economic development.
But for Jones, asking taxpayers to cough up more money to pay for the priorities is a non-starter. She pointed to other recent tax increases that are putting a strain on household budgets, including costs associated with the Affordable Care Act and with 2013’s sweeping reform of transportation in Virginia that levied new taxes and increased old ones.
She also identified the federal government’s debt and a sluggish national economy as forces compelling her to oppose a tax increase.
“I think we can achieve that quality of life without raising taxes, because to me the quality of life boils down to the citizen’s ability to afford to live here and enjoy their quality of life,” she said.
The purpose of the community meeting was for citizens to ask Jones questions about the county’s budgeting process and the proposed tax increase. Several citizens said they supported a tax increase, with fewer saying they were opposed.
Many of those who were in support of a tax increase pointed to stormwater issues. One citizen said that when the neighborhood First Colony appeals to the government for help dealing with stormwater problems, the county says its VDOT’s responsibility, while VDOT says it’s the county’s responsibility.
“There’s nothing sinful about raising the tax if you need the money,” the citizen said.
Two other citizens from Ford’s Colony also spoke out against flooding issues in the neighborhood and the area around it.
Jones said the county should be firmer with VDOT about its responsibility to clean out ditches, which help drain stormwater. She also said the state’s regulations governing stormwater are problematic in that James City County is a leader in stormwater management yet it continues to be asked to step up and do more. She also said that stormwater issues need to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Hill’s budget proposal seeks $1,880,000 of the $9,020,000 that would be raised by the increase to go toward stormwater management. That money would be used to restart the county’s Neighborhood Drainage Program, which would offer matching grants to neighborhoods to help them pay for stormwater projects. It would also help pay for two large stormwater projects — one in Grove and the other in Lightfoot.
Several of the citizens who said they opposed the tax increase identified the county’s Purchase of Development Rights and Greenspace programs, which use public money to pay landowners to not develop their property. The programs were created in 2005 after a referendum put before county citizens was passed with 76 percent of the vote.
Jones also spoke out against the PDR and Greenspace programs.
“I’m all about preservation, but if it is that important to people, collect the money, do it privately, purchase the property and conserve it,” she said. “Don’t collect taxes from citizens with three kids who are working four jobs between husband and wife.”
Another citizen said he was a retiree and he was not going to see an increase in his income next year.
“One of the reasons I came here was to avoid high taxes,” he said. “You’re going to make this another New Jersey or perhaps New York or Connecticut.”
Many citizens who said they support a tax increase at the meeting live in the Berkeley District, with a few saying they completely disagreed with the supervisor’s position. Jones told them she has heard from many citizens from both her district and throughout the county who are steadfastly opposed to the increase.
One citizen asked how Jones would address Hill’s key issues without raising taxes.
“I think these are very good priorities,” she said. “I think we can address them, and I think we need to hold tight where we are. We need to reprioritize and maybe take a look at line-item budgeting and reprioritizing where some of our spending is going.”
She said the county needs to do a better job of diversifying the economy via economic development and advocating for itself to the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for projects and regulatory relief rather than raising local taxes.
Thursday’s meeting was the second of a series of five community meetings, one for each district in the county. The first meeting featured Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts), and stormwater — runoff from precipitation — and schools dominated the conversation.
Jones’ opposition to the tax increase is consistent with remarks she made at a Feb. 21 board of supervisors work session, when Hill first broached the topic of a potential tax increase. She was the lone supervisor to voice opposition to an increase.
The supervisors will consider the budget proposal during a series of upcoming budget work sessions. A public hearing for the proposal has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the James City County Government Complex. A full schedule of the board’s budget deliberations is available here.
Three more community meetings remain for the other districts in the county:
- Stonehouse District, 6:30 p.m. April 13 at the James City County Library
- Powhatan District, 6:30 p.m. April 16 at the James City County Recreation Center
- Jamestown District, 6:30 p.m. April 23 at the James City County Recreation Center
The budget is scheduled for adoption April 28. The full budget proposal is available here. A list of questions generated during the meeting will be answered by county staff and posted on the county website in the coming days.