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Supervisors raise real estate taxes

County taxpayers will pay one cent more on their real estate in the coming year after the Halifax County Board of Supervisors voted 6-2 to raise the real estate tax rate from the current 45-cent rate to 46 cents per $100 value.

The $87.9 million budget draft included the penny increase in the real estate tax rate to counteract the decline in assessed values and achieve a revenue neutral rate as well as pay for debt service to be incurred for renovations already underway on Phase I of the courthouse project involving moving the sheriff’s office and making space for the temporary courts.

Halifax County’s new real estate tax rate of 46 cents compares to neighboring counties’ rates including Campbell at 53 cents, Charlotte at 48 cents, Mecklenburg at 38 cents and Pittsylvania at 56 cents.

Also set were the personal property tax rate at $3.60 per $100 and machinery and tools tax rate at $1.26 per $100 value, both unchanged.

ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman offered the motion to raise the real estate tax rate by one cent and received a second from ED-6 Supervisor Larry Giordano.

Before the vote was taken, ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank and ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn voiced their opposition to raising the real estate tax rate.

“The proposed 2014-15 budget is most likely the tightest budget for Halifax County in recent years,” said Bank who commended the county administrator and finance director for their hard work in presenting a balanced $87.9 million budget.

“However, the county is still faced with either reducing expenditures or increasing taxes. Every effort should be made to accomplish the former before considering the latter,” Bank continued.

He explained how the county had supported industrial development efforts over the past 25 years with few results.

“During the last 12 years, industrial development in Southside Virginia has consumed over $900 million from the tobacco commission alone with little to show for the expense and effort,” he said.

According to Bank’s estimation, the industrial development authority has received over $100 million, and jobs have decreased by almost 2,000 during those 12 years.

“Our first priority should be for the board of supervisors to hold all entities receiving funds to an accounting of the funds received by them, especially those from the board of supervisors, and an accounting of how these funds were utilized by these entities. The board must specify how any funds are to be used and require these entities to account for any expenditures just as the board holds county departments accountable,” he added.

Rather than raising taxes “to continue this conflagrant spending,” Bank suggested these funds should be used to replace funds withdrawn from reserves in an effort to accumulate money to pay for mandated courthouse construction and to hold down any tax rate increase.

“I cannot vote in favor of a budget that funds costly expenditures that continue to yield negligible results,” Bank concluded.

Nunn also opposed any tax increase saying she had been contacted by many women in her district who have lost their husbands and are facing rising medical bills, heating and other everyday expenses that must be paid using fixed incomes.

Many of her constituents urged her not to vote for any increase, Nunn said, “So I too will not be voting for that.”

Newly appointed ED-3 Supervisor Ray Owen said he doesn’t see how the county has any other choice than to vote for a revenue neutral real estate tax rate due to the “driving force” of the courthouse renovations and decreased land assessment.

“If I am lucky enough to be re-elected to the board for the coming years, I think it would be pertinent for the board to research and work within the budget and utilize the most effective manner possible without raising taxes to get the same results,” Owen said.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis also said the last thing he would want to do is for the board to raise taxes.

“We have cut expenses big time in the last five years…but there has been a tax loss of about $180,000” from the recent reassessment, Davis pointed out.

“It’s something we don’t want to do, but it’s something we see that we don’t have any choice but to do,” he added.

“It’s not fun sitting up here with no money. But what do you do? Do you take services away from public safety and things that need to be done. It’s a difficult choice. This is one, in my opinion, where we really had no choice.”

ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne agreed with Davis saying, “We do have no choice.”

But he said supervisors “need to start now finding some other means of cutting down these expenses.”

Giordano said when he ran for a seat on the board last summer he promised not to raise taxes.

“We have been put in a position through mandated courthouse expenses that we don’t have much of a choice here. One-half cent is really just to stay neutral, and the other half cent will fund improvements that have to be made,” he said.

The newly elected ED-6 supervisor said he has been approached by constituents reminding him of that promise he made not to raise taxes.

“I have to tell them our back is against the wall, and unfortunately this is where we are at,” Giordano concluded.

The motion passed 6-2 with Nunn and Bank voting in opposition.

After voting to raise the real estate tax rate by one cent, supervisors also voted unanimously to appropriate level local funding of $13,377,529 to the county schools again this year permitting the schools to enter into contracts with teachers and staff for the new academic year.

In other action Monday night, Virginia Department of Transportation Acting Assistant Residence Administrator Jay Craddock updated supervisors on maintenance, construction and traffic studies currently underway.

Craddock said crews will be repairing road surfaces, responding to customer concerns and increasing their focus on picking up litter from county roadsides.

He also reminded supervisors of two hearings set for Tuesday, April 29, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Sydnor Jennings Elementary School on the State Route 716 bridge and approaches over the Banister River and the Highway 501/Route 624 intersection left and right turn lanes.

Two public hearings were held Monday night followed by supervisors unanimous approval of both conditional use permit requests.

The first hearing was on a conditional use permit by Cellco Partners for Verizon Wireless to erect a 199-foot telecommunications tower in ED-2 on the southeast side of James D. Hagood Highway (Highway 360), approximately one-third of a mile west of its intersection with Rodgers Chapel Road (State Route 607).

Pete Caramanis was the sole speaker who represented Verizon Wireless.

Caramanis told supervisors Verizon is interested in providing the best coverage it can in the county and plans to look into covering other areas where gaps in coverage currently exist.

The tower will meet Verizon’s coverage requirement and potentially accommodate three additional co-locations, he explained.

The second hearing held Monday night involved a conditional use permit application from Denise and David Hudson for Hudson Heritage Farms to operate a bed and breakfast, farm store and teaching facility in ED-6.

The site is located at 14242 River Road on the north side of River Road (State Route 659), across from its intersection with Ashton Hall Road (State Route 662).

Denise Hudson was the sole speaker at the second hearing telling supervisors their plans call for expanding the livestock production farm to become more agri-tourism friendly. 

Both conditional use permits were unanimously approved with conditions as recommended by the Halifax County Planning Commission.