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A no-tax rule means Roanoke County’s de facto real estate rate has declined while demands have increased.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Roanoke County supervisors heard this week that the gap between lagging county revenues and increasing demands for services has reached a critical point. The public is going to begin feeling the pain.
The board’s response? The economy’s sure to get better. Meanwhile, maybe a review of county ordinances might turn up some growth-stunting business regulations that could be eliminated.
Anything but look at raising revenue by, say, taking a look at equalizing real estate tax rates so that falling real estate assessments don’t allow de facto tax cuts as expenses increase.
Chairman Mike Altizer brought up the regulatory review, he said later, because tax increases tend to be the first place governments look to improve revenue, and it should be the last. “The other things never get looked at.”
Granted, regulations can cause unintended consequences or outlive their purpose. But any economic boost the county might see by rooting out useless rules is likely to be swallowed up in the coming year by storm water.
All Virginia localities will have to figure out soon how to comply with new federal and state requirements to keep pollutants from storm water runoff out of the state’s rivers and streams.
When the final regulations come out, probably at the end of this year, Altizer acknowledged, the county will face some hard decisions. “What’s it going to take to implement? I think it will cost a large sum of money. How are you going to pay for it?”
A big, unavoidable expense looms on the horizon. That reality combined with a flat revenue picture for going on six years — a picture that is not expected to improve significantly in the foreseeable future — suggest that the county’s leaders should be having hard discussions now about the challenges ahead.
But this year, as every year within memory, the elected board’s first budget priority has been: Don’t even think about raising the real estate tax rate. Fiscal sobriety is not about frugality alone, but also about planning ahead for necessary expenses — those taxpayers want to maintain, like good schools, and those they want to improve, like fire and rescue. And those thrust upon them, like environmental regulations to protect shared resources.
Altizer understands the challenges. Worry about the future prompted him to call a regional economic summit this year, bringing neighboring localities together to improve their economic development prospects.
He and Supervisor Richard Flora, both fiscally conservative Republicans, are credible public servants who are not seeking re-election this year. They should press a forward-looking and difficult dialogue with the public before they leave.
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