tax public hearing

A screenshot of Culpeper resident Wally Bunker encouraging the supervisors to not raise real estate taxes this year. Instead, he suggested the county start levying cigarette and meals taxes.

After hearing opposition from some citizens over a potential 2-cent real estate tax increase during a recent public hearing, several Culpeper County Board of Supervisors members hinted that the county will not increase taxes.

After recent property assessments in which properties increased in value by an average of 12.4%, the current tax rate has been adjusted from 62 cents to 55 cents per $100 of assessed value. Therefore, a two-cent hike would increase the tax rate to 57 cents per $100 of assessed value.

After advertising a public hearing for a potential 57-cent real estate tax, the supervisors can approve a figure lower than that advertised rate but not go higher.

Culpeper’s real estate tax is low compared to surrounding counties' current rates including the 99 cents per $100 of assessed value in Fauquier, 73 cents in Rappahannock, 72 cents in Orange and 71 cents in Madison.

Supervisors Chairman Gary Deal said “I feel confident we probably” will approve a 55-cent real estate tax and noted that there is a variety of stimulus money arriving from the state and federal governments “that has changed everything as far as our budget.” In the future, he added, “somewhere along the line we’re going to have to gradually increase it to meet the expenses for operation.”

With a tax rate that is below surrounding counties, he added there will likely be a “migration” to Culpeper of people who have to commute one or two days a week. With that, he said, there will likely be more large-scale local developments.

Supervisor Jack Frazier noted that the equalization rate has particularly increased the value of residential properties while farmland, commercial and industrial properties have dropped. He particularly expressed concern over the fact that houses valued between $250,000-$300,000 are seeing the brunt of increased assessments.

This, he said, is fine if somebody is selling their house but it otherwise “is hitting the middle class right here in Culpeper.” While most people “take the tax hit and go on,” but there’s only “so much tax hit” the middle class can take. In the end, he said state legislatures need to take action to minimize tax increases for the middle class.

Even amid a global pandemic, Supervisor Paul Bates noted that the county is in very good financial shape and he thinks it would be counterproductive to raise taxes while the state and federal government has been “throwing money out of both pants pockets just as hard as they can to keep people afloat.”

Supervisor Bill Chase agreed with Bates and said he would like to keep the real estate tax level, or maybe even lower it.

Speakers oppose tax increase

During a public hearing, five town and county residents voiced opposition to the potential real estate tax increase while no speakers supported the idea.

Resident Wally Bunker noted that the reassessments increased his home’s value by 19.1%, which he understands and agrees with. The two-cent tax increase, however, would result in a 9.5% increase in his real estate taxes.

Meanwhile, he noted that the county has opted against levying cigarette and meals taxes while “people can choose not to dine out or smoke.” He noted the town, on the other hand, the town’s decision to collect these taxes helps offset real estate increases. While the county does not have many restaurants or shops selling cigarettes, he said “as the county continues to grow, so will those revenue streams.”

He added that right now the county must examine its needs and perhaps temporarily cast aside some quality of life projects.

“I’m all for quality of life issues in this fast-growing county. However, to fund some of the quality endeavors totally on the backs of real estate and personal property taxes is unacceptable,” he said.

Resident Don Haight Jr. said an increased tax rate would be “hard to swallow” when people are out of work or struggling to make ends meet. While realizing the need to fund the new career and technical education school, he wished there were other ways the county could accomplish that goal.

Forrester Safford reminded the supervisors that the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing and residents do not need elected officials acting as leeches and “crawl into our pockets to suck out more money from us.” Safford explained his family had plans to eventually sell their house for a profit and build another home in the county. If taxes increase, he said his family would build elsewhere. He explained that “the quest to squeeze more out of us is crazy” as property values have been on the rise in the last few years.

“So we’re already seeing our taxes go up...Don’t increase our property taxes, it’s a bad deal for us and it’s not the right time to do it,” he said.

Francis Updike noted that gas and plywood prices are increasing and the economic scene “is so uncertain.” He encouraged the supervisors to readjust their budget plans as “it is time for the taxpayers to get a break.”

After hearing the public comments, Frazier said he would like to have heard from more citizens but he thinks the people who spoke “kind of set the tone.”

The supervisors will vote on whether to pass the county’s budget and the real estate tax rate during the board’s May 4 meeting.

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