County faces important choices

This is too bad as the importance of solving our water challenges is essential to our long term economic success and to helping us balance the tax base. When I refer to the tax base, I am speaking to the fact that approximately 90+% of our county’s revenues are currently generated by homeowners. The remaining comes from business tax revenues in the form of real property and sales tax. Further, the demand for core services by residential growth is greater than the demand generated by business. This is to say that business growth is a welcome and necessary pattern to keeping our property taxes low in the long run. But, in order to attract commercial interests we need to show that we are committed to development, infrastructure and the quality of the services we provide as a benefit of living and working in Fluvanna.
In a recent letter to the editor (the July 25 issue of the Fluvanna Review) Mr. Miller provided out of context and erroneous information, which is ironic given his comments regarding being informed. In his piece he stated that I was in favor of up to an eight cent tax increase. This information was taken out of context from a conversation that I had with Elizabeth Franklin and Chris Fairchild.
While discussing our views on the challenges our county is facing, I listed many of the following pressures on the budget that will, if acted upon, lead to almost certain increases over the next few years:

1. The 2013 budget benefited from the bond refinancing of the high school. This allowed the county to reduce the rate for the 2013 budget by approximately three cents due to the timing of payments. This reduction will not be in place for 2014 and beyond.
2. The county is considering its water options. While all the plans being considered show a return on investment within a few years, the initial startup costs will require investment and outlays without offsetting revenues. In the Aqua plan the nearly $900 thousand per year expenditure would equal about four cents, and the Department of Corrections’ plan would equal about $450 thousand or about two cents.
3. The county administrator is anticipating cost of living adjustments, potential increases in health care costs due to Affordable Care Act (ACA), and possibly higher social service costs. These costs could result in another one to three cents.
4. Despite cuts, the schools have repeatedly had to ask for increased funding to meet obligations. The state recently created another $500 thousand shortfall and if we account for a similar shortfall in next year’s budget that would equal another two to three cents.
5. The state of our core services and in particular the fire and rescue system is very fragile and we may not be able to maintain our licensing due to failed state inspections. Funding, staffing and response times are all being reviewed.

I have never said that I want to raise taxes eight cents to fund all of those items listed above, I just want to emphasize that these are financial decisions the Board is going to need to address. Unless corresponding revenues or additional cuts to other county operations are found, it is reasonable to assume that we will see an increasing upward pressure on our property rates due to one or more of the pressures noted above. This should be of no surprise, almost all of the existing supervisors can be found referencing the need for tax increases over the past several years, and even most recently in the last board meeting.
We all want our leaders to maximize the use of tax dollars. We should expect and demand that those dollars are spent wisely. I don’t know of anybody who wants higher taxes just so that they are spent frivolously. But let us not lose sight that if we want our County to succeed in the long run, we will need solid economic development, quality schools and strong core services. These things do not come free. They require community support, investment, good fiscal planning, vision and execution.
Steps to effective decision making include prioritizing and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of our county, seeking to know the facts, and understanding the costs and benefits of our choices. By doing this, we can balance our wants against our needs within a mission that is focused on providing the best long term results for our county and its citizens. Then we will need leadership that is willing to execute and not just kick the can down the road, and that is where our vote comes in to play. We can vote for those who promise something for nothing or we can vote for those committed to making the choices and finding the solutions to strengthen our county.

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