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Mecklenburg County reaps $2 mil vehicle tax windfall

SoVaNow.com / October 13, 2021


Mecklenburg County is expected to reap a $2 million windfall in personal property tax revenues from sharply rising valuations for cars and trucks, a development tied to shortages of new vehicles at auto dealerships around the U.S.

At their monthly meeting Tuesday in Boydton, the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors explored options for using the unexpected tax bonanza.

Assistant County Administrator Judy Sheffield suggested the money be set aside in a special fund for remodeling and updating the county’s three aging elementary schools in Chase City, Clarksville and La Crosse.

Supervisors also agreed to support Southside Behavioral Health in its quest to receive a $100,000 grant from the USDA to expand telehealth offerings and to consider funding requests by Impact Mecklenburg and Literacy Interactive, local non-profits.

In September, Commissioner of Revenue Ed Taylor warned that personal property tax bills for vehicles would jump this year despite no increase in the tax rate. He called it an “unusual situation” caused by a significant escalation in the assessed values of cars and trucks.

The dearth of new and used vehicles on the market has pushed up the value of existing automobiles. While Mecklenburg County’s personal property tax rate is unchanged from last year at $3.36 per $100 in valuation, higher assessed values for vehicles upped the amount of taxes that must be paid.

When Supervisors approved the county budget for fiscal year 2022 — the package went into effect July 1, — it did so without knowing car and truck values as determined by the National Association of Auto Dealers would jump, sometimes as much as by 40 percent.

Taylor said he uses the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) car guide to provide values for tax assessment purposes because it is the oldest and most respected service in the United States. He applies what is known as the “clean loan value,” which is 20 to 25 percent less than a person would pay for a vehicle purchased from a retail dealer.

Supervisors had been asked by more than one citizen to consider fixing car valuations based on the lesser trade-in value, or to consider lowering the personal property tax rate. Taylor and Mecklenburg County Treasurer Sandra Langford described the immediate problems created by these suggested changes.

Mecklenburg County’s personal property tax rate of $3.36 per $100 is already the lowest in Southside Virginia. To change the rate, the Board of Supervisors would have to advertise a public hearing, hold the hearing and then vote on the change. This could not take place before the tax bills are due on Dec. 5.

Taylor said NADA is anticipating that car values will come down over the next year — perhaps lower than they are this year, due to the flood of 2021 model year vehicles that were built but could not be completed or sold in 2021 because of the shortage of computer chips. These vehicles are likely to hit the market just as the 2022 model year cars and trucks are ready for sale.

If the county reduces the personal property tax rate for this short-term windfall, it will likely have to return the tax rate to the current level when car values come back down. Supervisor Charles Jones noted the people won’t remember that the county lowered the rate before it was increased.

Also, a lower tax rate would decrease the amount of revenue forecast for the coming year. Therefore, the county would have to revise its existing budget.

Taylor said using the trade-in value, and not the clean loan value, to assess the worth of vehicles would not significantly reduce the amount of taxes the car or truck owner would have to pay this year. It would be a five percent reduction, at most. He added that anytime you change the methodology by which you assess valuations, you must first hold a public hearing. Again, this cannot be accomplished by Dec. 5 when personal property taxes are due, he said.

Langford said the data used to print the personal property tax bills has already been submitted to the printer. She expects to have the bills printed and ready for mailing by the end of this week, giving people six weeks to pay their taxes.

If the date the tax bills are due is pushed back, “we are into Christmas,” Langford noted.

Board Chair Glenn Barbour summed up the situation by noting, “If we try to do anything now, it would be chaos.”

County Administrator Wayne Carter added, “There is no good answer.”

It was Sheffield who suggested setting aside the excess funds to renovate and modernize Chase City, Clarksville and La Crosse elementary schools. Carter added that he supported the recommendation.

Carter added he has been contacted by local taxpayers asking what Mecklenburg County plans to do with the unanticipated funding. Supervisors and school board trustees were already looking into both a mechanism to fund and a timeline to upgrade the three oldest elementary schools.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols has asked to begin renovations to the elementary schools as early as 2023, after county students in grades 6-12 are relocated to the new consolidated high and middle school currently under construction in Baskerville.

“Since we did not do the sales tax yet, this [the personal property tax revenues] would bring in about one-half as much as the sales tax would bring,” Carter said.

The sales tax to which Carter referred is a one-cent sales tax hike that Mecklenburg can implement if approved by a voter referendum, as the General Assembly authorized earlier this year. The sales tax proceeds would have to be earmarked for school construction. In the past, Carter estimated that the additional penny tax would bring in between $4 to $5 million annually.

At the request of board members David Brankley and Jim Jennings, Carter and his counterparts in the treasurer and commissioner of revenue offices, Langford and Taylor, agreed to keep watch over trends and reassess ahead of the next billing cycle whether to change the methodology for valuing vehicles or reduce the personal property tax rate.

In other business, supervisors agreed to support Southside Behavioral Health’s request for matching funds to support a $100,000 grant request to the USDA. SBH Executive Director Beth Engelhorn said the grant comes with a 45 percent match. Mecklenburg County’s share would be $18,900. Halifax and Brunswick counties, which are also served by Southside Behavioral Health, have agreed to cover the remaining $26,100 matching amount — $19,350 from Halifax County and $6,750 from Brunswick County.

Engelhorn said Mecklenburg County would not pay anything if the grant is not awarded.

The money would be used to upgrade and expand telehealth services the agency offers to clients. Several of the buildings used by Southside Behavioral Health are over 20 years old. The wiring inside the buildings is not adequate to handle the electrical demands of operating a telehealth system. SBH has already updated to fiber-based internet service.

Engelhorn said patients were more likely to meet their appointment obligations with the telehealth option as opposed to in-person meetings. She called this one of the positive outcomes learned when the agency was forced to close its offices to in-person services during the pandemic.

“When we returned to in-person services, attendance dropped off,” Engelhorn explained. Southside Behavioral Health wants to continue to provide services in a way that best serves the community, she added, saying that can best be accomplished with telehealth services.

Supervisors also agreed to consider new funding for two local non-profit community support groups.

Between June 26 and July 2, 2022, Impact Mecklenburg will host 150 teens and adult leaders at a camp focused on helping people who are, according to Laurie Wright, “living on the margins of society.”

Wright is a team leader for Impact Mecklenburg a week-long immersive camp whose mission is to lead students to provide safer, dryer, warmer housing for homeowners in focused communities.

Wright and Constance Hammond asked Supervisors to consider waiving any permit and inspection fees that would be needed to perform repairs and upgrades to housing units.

During the week-long camp, students will work on about 20 homes while interacting with the homeowners. “We focus on two primary outcomes, partnering with the local community and helping our participants reflect on their experience in a way that helps them turn a week of service into a lifestyle of mission,” Wright explained.

The students will learn skills and what it feels like to help others, she added.

Hammond, Wright and the Impact Mission Camp team members are already raising funds to cover the cost of housing, feeding and transporting the students and adult leaders. They are also seeking donations of building materials, port-a-potties, construction dumpsters, and meals. They can accept financial contributions, in-kind gifts and discounts from vendors that provide a service to the mission camp.

Angelita Reyes through her Literacy Interactive nonprofit organization asked supervisors for $50,000 to pay to stabilize and begin rehabilitation of an historic pre-Civil War log cabin situated on 4.41 acres near Clarksville. The structure, known as the Parker Sydnor log cabin, is the original standing log cabin that housed enslaved African Americans at Prestwould Plantation.

In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, Reyes wrote, “The log cabin represents resilience, achievement, education, women’s rights, civil rights, and, now, a place that will invite everyone to be a part of moving forward with new kinds of mutual achievements for inclusive development and capacity-building. The historic site will be opened to the public as a lively tourist attraction and as a vibrant place for intergenerational and interracial programs benefiting Mecklenburg County.”

Both the request from Hammond and Wright on behalf of Impact Mission Camps and Impact Mecklenburg and Reye’s request for $50,000 were referred to the budget and finance committee for consideration and a recommendation.

At the request of David Brankley, supervisors agreed to seek recommendations from the Mecklenburg County Planning Commission on changes to the county’s comprehensive plan as it relates to utility-scale and small scale solar facilities. Brankley has asked the board to revise the zoning code to include limits on the size and scope of solar projects.

Currently, the comprehensive plan recommends limiting the acreage allowed for a solar facility to no more than 500 acres, and sets a distance between facilities to two miles and one mile from a town border. These are only recommendations, but if added to the zoning ordinance they would become law.

Brankley made the request after Carter said the developers of the proposed 800-acre solar facility near Chase City known as Seven Bridges would be appealing the recommendation from the planning commission that the proposed facility is not in conformance with the county’s comprehensive plan. Brankley said it was not fair to the developers, who’d worked on the project for more than two years, to pursue the development if the county was firmly opposed to large-scale facilities.

Putting the limits in the zoning ordinance would put future developers on notice before they begin to design and situate a solar field in the county.

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Comments

I thought we were trying to erase all evidence of teh civil war and slavery and now a monument to a slave log cabin?? wtf?

Comments

Seriously?, we are trying to erase the remnants of the confederacy you fecking nitwit. You know the war your people LOST, that you still feel bitter over?


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