Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Where Do Your Local Tax Dollars Go?

Gloucester County, Virginia is once again entering into the annual budget building season. Last year there were folks who wanted to see a seven or more cents increase in real estate taxes. After efforts by several conservative minded Gloucester People and a lot of deliberation by the Board of Supervisors, the increase turned out to be ½ cent. Let’s review what I suggested to the Board of Supervisors during the public comment period of the meeting in which the Board voted, in a three to four split decision, to increase real estate taxes by ½ cent. I began my suggestions with: Any tax increase is unacceptable considering last year’s increase, the repeal of the boat tax and the amount of money irresponsibly spent year after year. I then made the following suggestions.

-Parks and Recreation funding should be limited to what it takes to operate and maintain our most used parks and programs and the lesser used (over half of them) should be closed. Manpower should be limited to minimum operational requirements. All parks and recreation capital projects should be frozen until financial ability and growth trigger further expansion. This will save over $250,000 annually.

-We pay over $250,000 a year to rent our libraries. The rent arrangement for the Main St. Library is an unethical back door funding mechanism for a non-profit organization (That organization is the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust) and is not a fair and transparent way to spend tax dollars. As a first step, the library at Hayes should be closed and funds normally appropriated for its operation and rent should be diverted to a library construction fund. Owning our libraries will save over $200,000 annually, after depositing $50,000 annually into a maintenance and expansion fund.

-Last year I called for the elimination of the Community Education Department. (Instead of eliminating it, more money was dumped into it and the name was changed to the Department of Community Engagement.) I also called for returning the department’s functions back to schools, social services, County administration, human resources, IT and the various non-profit organizations the department supports. I suggested moving the director to the planning department. (I now feel the position should be eliminated all together.) This will yield an annual savings of at least $350,000. (If the director position is eliminated the savings would be over $100,000 more than the $350,000 I suggested last year.)

-Animal Control should be reorganized into a reactionary department and patrolling should cease. This will make the department more citizen friendly. Staff should be limited to two officers. The Sheriff’s dept. dispatcher should receive incoming calls and dispatch the officers as needed. This will save over $100,000 annually.

-What to do with our bus garage and old Page properties is being considered. It has been rumored that selling all or part of the properties is the best option. Considering our substantial infrastructure needs and need for consolidation, any option to sell the properties does not seem to be fiscally responsible, in the best interest of managing our assets or taking care of our employees.

These properties afford us the ideal location to consolidate county and school functions. We should expand our bus garage and consolidate all school and county transportation functions under one fleet director employed by the County. We should consolidate all of our school and County public works, buildings and grounds and janitorial type functions under one director employed by the County. Utilities has money to purchase property for of a new yard and office. It should be used to begin the consolidation process by moving Utilities to the old Page property. (The County and our public school system continue to kick this can down the road. Someone wants the old Page and school bus garage properties and Gloucester taxpayers are going to end up on the short end of the stick if we allow the property to be sold. As it stands now, tens of thousands of dollars have been spent to do a study on where a consolidated facility should be located. The County and schools have limited the amount of land that can be used at the old Page and bus garage properties by focusing the study on using only ½ of the property. Even after imposing that restriction, the study determined that the old Page and bus garage property is the most economical location out of three locations that were considered. I have been telling them for three years for free, what they have now spent tens of thousands of our local tax dollars to learn.)  

-All IT and financial functions should also be consolidated under one director per department and employed by the County. All of the mentioned consolidations will lead to a savings of over $1 million annually. (I now believe these functions should also be consolidated on the old Page and bus garage property.)

Total potential savings from these few suggestions would be in the neighborhood of $2,000,000 annually. Unfortunately, not enough People in Gloucester are speaking out against the unnecessary spending of tax dollars. There is an ongoing effort to bring industrial and other types of businesses to Gloucester. They claim we need to generate more revenue to ease the tax burden. Generating more revenue in the manner they are attempting will result in more local government and higher taxes. Gloucester enjoys one of the lowest real estate tax rates around, but it continues to inch up. When government grows, taxes rates generally increase in feet instead of inches.

The County Administrator will eventually release his proposed budget for next year. I will let you know when he does. I bet they will be asking for seven or more cents again. In the meantime, here is the web address to the County budget that was approved last year.

Keep following and please share with everyone you know in Gloucester County.

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Kenny Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point, Virginia

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