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A once rural county becomes urban, but its leaders have not accepted the fiscal realities that entails.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Few Montgomery County residents will like county staff’s recommendation that supervisors increase the property tax rate by 2 cents and the personal property tax rate by 10 cents. “The taxes are too high,” some will shout. “This doesn’t go far enough to fund basic public services,” others will declare. Goldilocks will be scarce.
Everyone in the county should have seen this coming after supervisors last year approved the largest property tax increase in decades, but one that still was not large enough to meet needs. Last year’s increase of 12 cents per $100 of assessed value brought the rate to 87 cents, and most of the new revenue went to pay for schools.
County leaders for decades postponed tough decisions on revenue generation needed for maintenance and services. Then the Blacksburg High School gymnasium collapsed, and most people realized taxpayers could no longer avoid the burden. Years of discount rates led to one monster increase when no other choice remained.
Yet supervisors did not rip the Band-Aid off with one quick pull. They came up short last year, and now are back tugging on it with another tax increase. It would have been better to get it all over at once, but that opportunity is gone. So is a year in which county leaders could have done more to prepare residents for another increase. A car tax alone cannot raise enough money, so the property tax rate must again increase.
Nothing supervisors plan to spend the money on is wasteful or unreasonable, but that will not stop people from complaining.
This increase might not even be the last, either. Supervisors again appear to be aiming low. Schools alone sought more than twice the proposed increase just for their needs.
Montgomery County is undergoing an identity crisis. Many residents still fancy their community a rural retreat, and parts of the county are. But Blacksburg and Christiansburg, where most county residents live, have become loci for high-tech and commercial development. The county is rapidly urbanizing.
Tax rates do not reflect that reality. Compared to other mid-sized urban counties and cities across the commonwealth, taxes are low in Montgomery County. Employers and workers, especially those with young families, have expectations of services that cannot be met as long as timid supervisors bow to the shallow roar of anti-tax residents pining for a rural community that no longer exists.
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