Ideas rise, fall at BOS

The idea of splitting county property tax bills into two semi-annual installments died a quiet death Monday after a discussion at the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors’ monthly meeting. The same fate befell a suggestion that county teachers — but not other school employees — be given a pay increase for the coming school year.

The Commissioner of Revenue’s office recently conducted a survey of taxpayers’ opinions on whether they would prefer to pay their real estate tax bills in one annual payment each December, or to be billed twice a year to make semi-annual payments in June and December, as some other counties do.

While the idea of twice-yearly billing that would make the half-payments more manageable appealed to some taxpayers, the survey showed “a very strong majority against” changing from the current annual payment system, County Administrator John McCarthy told the board. The survey produced a vote against the change by about a 5-to-3 ratio, he said.

Given that result, the supervisors put aside the issue with little comment. Some taxpayers had expressed opposition on grounds that processing tax bills twice a year would result in higher costs and additional work in the Treasurer’s office.

In a lengthy afternoon meeting that covered many issues, the supervisors also deferred any action on the question of designating a new polling place for Stonewall-Hawthorne District. Though Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, the current polling place, is planning to move to a new location, that won’t occur before the November 2010 election, so Stonewall-Hawthorne voters will continue to vote there this year.

The U.S. Census count of 2010 also will result in redistricting of the county’s five magisterial districts, McCarthy pointed out, which may affect the decision on where to establish the polling place for Stonewall-Hawthorne.

Supervisor Chris Parrish’s suggestion that the voting place be moved to Castleton fire hall had raised some concern that the fire hall would be a distant and inconvenient polling place for many in the district. Supervisors concluded it made sense to wait until after the redistricting in 2011 to consider the issue.

The teachers’ pay issue arose when Parrish tossed on the table the idea of giving the 82 teachers at Rappahannock Public Schools a pay raise, but not the other nearly 100 school employees.

“In these times when none of the other counties are giving raises and are cutting staff, it would serve as a recruitment tool,” Parrish said. “It would get everyone’s attention and help attract good teachers from other counties.”

Parrish asked School Superintendent Robert Chappell how much it would cost to give just teachers a “step increase” in salaries and was told the amount would be about $75,000. The School Board’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year does not include pay increases for any school employees.

The idea did not go down well with either Chappell or School Board members attending Monday’s meeting.

“I don’t think it would be fair to give it just to the teachers,” said School Board member Aline Johnson when asked for her opinion.

Chappell agreed. “I think there would be some discomfort on the part of the other employees,” the superintendent said. Hampton Supervisor Bryant Lee suggested that a pay raise for school teachers also would trigger requests for similar treatment by non-school County employees, who are not scheduled for any pay raise next year.

“All I am doing is stirring the waters to see what comes up,” responded Parrish. Having stirred the waters, he let the idea drop. “Maybe we can give them all a raise next year,” said Aline Johnson. “We are just looking for better times.”

Another idea that dropped dead at the meeting was the possibility of extending the deadline to apply for “Land Use” taxation so that 23 taxpayers who missed the deadline would qualify for the favorable tax treatment on their properties.

Commissioner of Revenue Beverly Atkins pointed out that the taxpayers who failed to file the required forms and documents to qualify for Land Use taxation had received two separate mailings warning them of the deadline. Eleven of the 23 did not respond at all, and others failed to provide required information on the use of their land.

After a brief discussion, in which Peter Luke, the county’s attorney, said he did not believe the law allowed any additional extension for those who failed to file properly, the supervisors took no action. The result is that those who ignored the deadline will pay taxes on the full assessed market value of their properties, rather than the much-lower Land Use rate.

This article first appeared on the author’s news and commentary blog, www.rappvoice.com.

About James P. Gannon 21 Articles

James P. Gannon is a retired journalist who lives near Flint Hill. In his newspaper career, he served as a reporter and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, as Editor of The Des Moines Register in Iowa, and as Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit news and a columnist for the Gannett newspapers.