New revenue


“We’re a two-trick pony county,” County Administrator Steve Nichols said to the Board of Supervisors at their Wednesday evening (May 7) work session, referring to the real estate tax and the personal property tax.

In order to alleviate this dynamic, supervisors asked Nichols to look into alternate sources of revenue.

Nichols’s response was to create a spreadsheet with Finance Director Eric Dahl comparing Fluvanna to 10 surrounding or nearby counties and to 12 Virginian counties with similar populations.  The spreadsheet showed with percentages and dollar amounts all the places from which the counties pulled their revenue in fiscal year 2013 (FY13).

Nichols then flagged places where Fluvanna’s data didn’t mesh well with that of other counties.  For example, the other counties pulled in an average of $666,000 in FY13 via their machinery and tools tax.  Fluvanna got $9,000.  What causes that discrepancy?  “It’s not because our rates are so different,” Nichols said.  “I don’t know what the difference is.”  Places like that are where Nichols wants to take a closer look to see if “we are missing something.”

One alternate source of revenue Nichols recommends examining is emergency medical services (EMS) revenue recovery.  Of the 22 other counties surveyed, at least 15 have revenue recovery programs in place.

Revenue recovery allows counties to bill insurance companies and individuals for the cost of EMS transport, including services provided in the ambulance.  Although patients who cannot pay are not denied care, the concept remains controversial.

“It’s very complicated,” Nichols said, explaining that the county couldn’t set a dual standard in charging those with and without insurance, and that federal laws govern both how to bill and how to forgive bills.  Nonetheless, many other counties have successfully implemented the program.  “I certainly am going to push hard for it,” Nichols said.

It’s hard to know how much money a revenue recovery program would generate.  Louisa County’s program yielded almost $1 million in FY13, though it has a larger population and, according to Nichols, runs twice as many calls as Fluvanna.

By the end of the evening, supervisors directed staff to look into establishing an EMS revenue recovery program in Fluvanna.  When staff returns with answers, supervisors will have the chance to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision.

Nichols also wanted the Board to look into establishing a business/professional/occupational license (BPOL) ordinance.  Under this ordinance the county could implement a BPOL license fee.  Any business registered in Fluvanna would then pay an annual fee of around $25 or $50.

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch advised against “opening a can of worms” with the BPOL license fee for what would possibly be a small sum of money.  Supervisor Tony O’Brien responded that it could be prudent to implement a BPOL license fee before the hoped-for growth at Zion Crossroads occurs.

A third suggestion from Nichols was to look into establishing a meals tax of 4 percent.  At least 13 of the counties Nichols examined have a meals tax, and in FY13 the tax yielded an average of $650,000 to the counties.  Incidentally, this average does not include Albemarle, which gained a whopping $6.2 million from the tax.  Nichols noted that meal taxes require a referendum.

After presenting these ideas Nichols stated his hope that the county could eventually “moderate increases in the big taxes by levying the other things we could levy.”  In fact, if these alternate sources of revenue begin to add up someday, Nichols mentioned the possibility of lowering the personal property tax, at least for businesses, in order to be more competitive with Louisa.

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