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Floyd Co. to discuss tax hike

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett of The Roanoke Times

FLOYD -- An emotionally charged discussion on taxing and spending in Floyd County continues tonight.

The Floyd County Board of Supervisors has discussed raising real estate taxes by 5 cents to 52 cents per $100 of assessed value, and personal property tax by 75 cents to $3.45 per $100 in assessed value.

Supervisors met April 20 for a public hearing on the proposed tax rates, drawing a crowd that spoke for more than three hours on both sides of the issue.

The board will reconvene tonight at 7 p.m. to vote on the proposed rates. If the tax increases are voted through tonight, the budget can pass as-is. If the increases are voted down, supervisors will go back into budget work sessions.

Once rates are advertised, they cannot be increased. If passed, the increases would add an estimated $1.3 million to the county's coffers, said County Administrator Dan Campbell.

Supervisors and residents are split on the issue, but it shouldn't be an "us versus them" discussion, said Supervisor Bill Gardner, who is in favor of the tax increases.

"As a landowner with a 200-acre farm, and someone who's semi-retired, I understand the other side of things. We all just need to work together to solve this problem."

The county hasn't had a tax rate increase since 2006, which has put the county in a tight financial situation, he said.

Supporters of the increases have said it will help maintain services, including trash collection, sheriff's department funding and education, among others.

An $800,000 deficit in the school board budget is one of the reasons given for the increased taxes.

"This doesn't go anywhere near meeting the deficit for the school system, and we need to maintain a strong school system, and sheriff's department, commonwealth's attorney ... we want to maintain what we have in Floyd and improve upon it," Gardner said.

But allotting $100,000 for paving the courthouse parking lot and other noncritical projects should be cut before taxes are raised, said Supervisor Case Clinger.

"I felt like we haven't put enough work into looking at areas that can be cut," Clinger said. "There's really not a lot of low-hanging fruit anymore, but there are some things we can cut."

Clinger said he worries the significant tax increase could mean the difference between food and paying taxes for those on fixed incomes.

"It would be easy to just go along and raise the tax rate, but it's not what's right," Clinger said.

Clinger said he has been reviewing the budget, and has received expressions of support from 120 citizens for speaking out against increases.

Citizens would be upset by the tax increase in good economic times, because of its size, Clinger said.

"I think we should increase it by increments each year, be proactive instead of reactive," Clinger said.

Both supervisors agree that the county should contribute to a reserve fund, they say.

The county each year borrows about $3 million in tax revenue anticipation notes that help pay expenses in the months until tax revenue is in, a process that could be eliminated with a reserve fund, supervisors said.

"Without that, we don't have enough there for about six out of 12 months of the fiscal year," Campbell said. "But at the end of the year, we're not in the red, and our budgeting is accurate."

The notes, borrowed from the Virginia Municipal League and Virginia Association of Counties, finance the program, Campbell said.

"I'm hoping to eventually not have to borrow that $3 million," Clinger said.

The fund should be started, but using other sources of income, he said.

"They wouldn't be able to meet their obligations each year if they didn't do that," Gardner said. "This increase helps start a rainy day fund."

In comparison, Radford, Pulaski County and Blacksburg officials do not plan to raise tax rates, and Montgomery County supervisors plan a one-cent increase on real estate tax rates. Christiansburg and Pulaski town councils have yet to decide on tax rates for the coming year.

The board meets tonight at 7 p.m. at the county administration building, 120 W. Oxford St.