Culpeper leaders appear to be backing away from the 2-cent increase in the real-estate rate the county has advertised. The shift came after several residents called them out on the need for it, during a public hearing Tuesday night.
Francis Updike, chairman and longtime member of the county Joint Board of Zoning Appeals, told the Board of Supervisors there was “enough maneuvering” in the fiscal 2022 budget proposal to hold off on bringing the rate to 57 cents per every $100 of assessed valuation, when an equalized rate would be 55 cents.
The two cents generated from the rate would generate around $1.2 million, enough to fund the Culpeper Technical Education Center’s operations for its first year.
Town resident Wally Bunker said his real-estate assessment rose more than 19 percent, meaning a steep increase in his tax bill. The former newspaper reporter chastised the board for not tapping into new local revenue streams—a county meals and cigarette tax—the state legislature has allowed the county to collect. It would minimize pressure on landowners and property taxes, Bunker said.
The world is still amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, saying the board “should look at what is absolutely necessary.” Bunker urged the supervisors to adopt the equalized rate and start planning to tax meals and cigarettes in county establishments.
Don Haight Jr. said economic times are still too hard to collect more taxes during the pandemic. Haight encouraged the board to find other ways to fund CTEC.
Town resident Forrester Safford also reminded the board of the pandemic and economic crisis that many are still feeling. He said he bought a home in Culpeper in 2014, but would consider building outside the county if it imposes higher taxes.
“Don’t increase our property taxes,” Safford said. “It’s a bad deal for us, and it’s the wrong time to do it.”
Cedar Mountain Supervisor Jack Frazier said the public comments “set the tone” for the non-equalized rate. Chairman Gary Deal said the votes might not be there when the time comes.
Deal added, “A lot of stimulus money is coming in now that has changed everything in our budget.”
Catalpa Supervisor Paul Bates agreed, saying the state and federal government “have been throwing money out of both pant pockets to keep people afloat” during the pandemic.
“We are in very good shape right now,” Bates said, adding that he felt it would be counterproductive to not equalize the tax rate.
Deal predicted “there is going to be a migration to Culpeper” because its real-estate tax rate is the lowest in the five-county region, compared to Fauquier at 99 cents per $100, Rappahannock at 73 cents, Orange at 72 cents and Madison at 71 cents.
Culpeper County’s current real-estate tax rate is 62 cents. But with property assessments up, the goal is an equalized rate or one that adjusts with the higher property values.
“People will start coming to Culpeper,” Deal said, projecting more large-scale developments over the next four or five years with more people working from home and willing to commute farther a few days a week. “I feel confident we’ll probably go with the 55 cents.”
The board chairman added that “somewhere along the line,” the rate will gradually need to be increased to keep up with growth demands. Stevensburg Supervisor Bill Chase, participating in the meeting by phone, said he supported setting the tax rate at 55 cents or lower.
“This is the year to lower taxes,” Chase said.
Salem Supervisor Tom Underwood said the county should cut $40,000 from its fiscal 2022 budget for printing the Culpeper Quarterly, a paper newsletter sent to all county citizens.
“I’m not sure we need to send that to printing, going forward,” Underwood said.
The county cut the printing job from the current year’s budget in the early days of pandemic budget uncertainty and put the newsletter strictly onlne.
The county administration recommended putting the paper newsletter back in for fiscal 2022.
East Fairfax Supervisor Kathy Campbell asked: Have there been any complaints since the mailer stopped?
County Administrator John Egertson said there had been no complaints, but very few people look at the newsletter online.
Deal spoke up for keeping the paper version, saying it could be used to highlight success stories by volunteer fire and rescue staff to generate financial support.
Most people are online, Supervisor Bates said. Underwood reiterated his feelings against “printing this paper.”
The Board of Supervisors will adopt its fiscal 2022 budget and set tax rates at its regular monthly meeting in May during the 10 a.m. session.