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Mecklenburg County aims to expand tax authority / January 15, 2020
The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors spent a good part of Monday’s monthly meeting in Boydton discussing how to expand available sources of local tax revenue for schools, public safety and other priorities — a debate that puts the county at odds with state law.

Board members debated two resolutions to forward to the Virginia General Assembly, which opened its 2020 legislative session last week. The intent of both resolutions is to give the county financial flexibility and protect it from the costs of state policy.

The first resolution calls for state lawmakers to give counties more time to review and comment on proposed bills to assess their local fiscal impacts. County and city government officials around Virginia have asked for changes in the legislative review process because many bills place onerous financial burdens on local governments, they say.

The second resolution asks the General Assembly to give county governments the same local taxing authority as Virginia cities and towns. The latter can impose taxes on cigarette purchases, meals and lodging and event admission fees, while counties lack the same authority.

County Administrator Wayne Carter said the Virginia Association of County Officials (VACO) had been “working on these issues for some time.”

Virginia localities — cities, towns and counties — have limited taxing powers under Virginia’s Dillon Rule system of governance. As a Dillon Rule state, all powers not expressly granted by the legislature to local governments remain the exclusive province of Virginia state government.

It is for that reason that localities cannot impose their own sales and gas excise taxes, among other possible levies. Furthermore, unlike cities and towns, counties also cannot enact cigarette, meals and lodging and admission taxes, either. Local government officials have long complained that the Dillon Rule system leaves counties overly reliant on property taxes to fund local operations, including K-12 education, police, rescue and fire departments, and costly infrastructure improvements.

Exceptions arise when local governments receive the approval of the General Assembly to impose taxes that otherwise would be off-limits. In 2011, the transit improvement package approved by the General Assembly and signed by then-governor Robert McDonnell gave Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads governments the authority to enact a local option sales tax to pay for new roads, bridges and transit systems.

Last year, Halifax County went to the General Assembly with a request to enact a 1 percent local sales tax to pay for new school construction. The effort, which was successful, marked the first time Virginia has allowed a local sales tax to pay for school capital improvements.

Following on the heels of Halifax County’s example, Mecklenburg County recently asked Del. Tommy Wright to introduce similar legislation in this year’s session providing for a 1 percent Mecklenburg sales tax. If the effort succeeds, local sales taxes would rise from the state levy of 5.3 cents to 6.3 cents.

Enactment of the sales tax is contingent on the passage of a countywide voter referendum approving the idea.

In other business, supervisors chose their new leadership team on Monday, the first meeting since two new members were elected to the Board.

Glenn Barbour will continue his role as chair, but the vice chair position previously held by Gregg Gordon will now be filled by Glanzy Spain, the longest serving member of the Board of Supervisors.

Gordon, who represented ED-9 covering Clarksville and Buffalo Junction, retired in December after serving for 16 years. His departure, along with that of Dan Tanner — who represented the La Crosse area for 20 years before losing to brother Tom Tanner in November — also has created two vacancies on the Southside Planning District Commission. Newly elected supervisors Charles Jones and Tom Tanner will fill their spots.

Jones’ election to the Supervisors also created an opening on the County Planning Commission. Since only one supervisor sits on the Planning Commission, and David Brankley holds that spot, Jones resigned his post on the Commission. He had served as a citizen member before seeking election to the Board of Supervisors.

Board members agreed to name Donna Dennis to the Planning Commission to fill the vacancy created when Jones joined the Board of Supervisors.

Several other appointments were tabled at the request of Barbour, who said he wanted to give all board members a chance to review the positions and express their willingness to serve. These spots include Gregg Gordon’s appointment to the Lake Country Regional Airport Commission and Dan Tanner’s appointment to the Lake Country Development Corporation Board of Directors, as well as Tanner’s appointments to the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council, Roanoke River Service Authority as an alternate, the RIFA Mega Site Board as an alternate, and the Meherrin River Regional Jail Authority.

Janet Buchanan was appointed to a seat on the county welfare board. She replaces her husband David Buchanan whose term expires Jan. 30.

Supervisors also accepted a deed of easement on Spanish Grove Road near the site of the proposed Bluestone Solar Farm. The deed allows VDOT to maintain a drainage culvert needed for the solar farm planned for land near the culvert site.

Chase City resident Mike Smith thanked supervisors for their passage of a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution at the December meeting. Smith also asked board members to remain watchful and stand against ongoing attempts by the Virginia General Assembly to limit gun rights.

The 2A Sanctuary Resolution expresses the intent of Mecklenburg County to withhold the use of public funds that, if spent, would “unconstitutionally restrict Second Amendment rights or aid in the unconstitutional restriction of the rights under the Second Amendment of the citizens of Mecklenburg County to keep and bear arms.”

He distributed a list of existing legislation under consideration by members of the Virginia House and Senate that he said represent the first step in outlawing the private ownership of firearms. Smith said one bill would require local governments to restrict guns in public buildings.

In fact, the bill he was referring to, SB35, introduced by Senator Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon, merely gives localities the right to adopt an ordinance that prohibits carrying firearms, ammunition, or gun components in a public space during certain events.

Responding to questions on why she voted against the 2A Sanctuary Resolution at the December meeting, South Hill-area supervisor Claudia Lundy said Monday that she favors “common sense gun laws” such as bans on assault rifles, universal background checks and extreme risk protection “red flag” laws. She also said children under 12 years of age should not have guns.

David Brankley asked fellow board members to remember Hamet Lee Piercy of South Hill, who died Saturday at the age of 95. Piercy served in the 157th Combat Engineer Battalion of the U.S. Army during World War II. He earned three battle stars, a purple heart, and several medals for his service. He was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge and held in a prisoner of war camp for nearly four months until liberated by Russian forces in April 1945.

In 2010, Piercy received the French Legion of Honor Medal and in June of last year, he was among the WWII veterans honored during the 75th anniversary commemoration of D-Day held at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

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