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Public hearing on tax rate draws query on farm use tax exemption

SoVaNow.com / May 16, 2018
A public hearing Monday to consider a proposed 1-cent increase in Mecklenburg’s real estate tax rate drew little interest among citizens.

The hearing, held at the start of the regular monthly meeting of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors in Boydton, marked the first time the public could share its views on the proposed tax increase.

Only one speaker came forward to comment on the tax proposal at the Monday morning hearing.

Sambo Lewis, who grew up in Mecklenburg County and whose family developed Merifield Acres, an upscale subdivision near Clarksville, told supervisors he did not oppose the increase, but wondered why the board was not willing to tax farm equipment. “Whether we reassess property values or raise the tax rate is a false narrative. Why is there no personal property tax on farm equipment?” Lewis asked.

“When the law [exempting farm equipment] was implemented it was because farms were small, an integral part of our economy and culture,” he said. “Today it is agri-business, a different animal and we are starved for revenues. I can’t imagine why we continue to ignore this [taxing farm equipment as an added source of revenue]. Addressing this issue is long overdue. Despite the personal gain or loss going forward it would very much benefit the county.”

His remarks drew no response from board members.

In other business,

» VDOT Resident Engineer Billy Smith told supervisors they should expect to receive around $2.4 million in the coming year for road upgrades, which is enough to pave Rochichi Drive and Twin Peaks Road, both listed on the county’s six-year plan for road improvements. Paving is also planned for Dixie Bridge Road, one of the most heavily traveled roads in the county, said Smith.

Under VDOT’s revenue sharing program, Mecklenburg will also receive funds to pave Old Cox and Probst Roads. Remaining monies will pay for the surfacing of Parrots Dead End Road. However, Smith said he believes funding for this project is “out a couple of years.”

» Tyler Satterwhite received approval to rezone his property from R-2 residential to agriculture. He said the zoning would allow him to install an underground greenhouse on his property on Ivy Hill Road near Townsville, N.C. where he plans to develop a gourmet mushroom farm.

» Voter Registrar Jason Corwin received permission to move a polling place in Chase City from its current location at the VFW to Butler Library. “I received a call the day before the election saying the Chase City VFW is closing and they are selling the building,” said Corwin. The library has already agreed to allow voting to take place in its conference room, with Corwin adding that it has a separate entrance, is handicap accessible and has extra parking.

» Supervisors approved the recommendation of the Budget and Finance Committee to borrow another $40 million — bringing to $90 million the amount of debt taken on to finance construction of the new high and middle school complex.

Ted Cole, a financial consultant with Davenport, presented several options for bond financing to cover the $100 million construction costs of the new middle/high school complex and $30 million for renovations and upgrades to the existing elementary schools. Based on the county’s current available revenues, Cole said the Board of Supervisors would have to raise the county real estate tax rate by nine cents to pay the debt service if the board borrows the full $120 million.

That estimate is based on the amount of revenue that a real estate tax increase would bring in — approximately $400,000 with each penny tacked onto the rate.

Board members approved the additional $40 million in borrowing over a term of 20 years starting in November 2018, as this could be done without increasing taxes. The remaining $30 million to renovate the three elementary schools, which would have been borrowed in three equal increments in 2023, 2024 and 2025, was not approved by the supervisors.

» Sam Sare with Landmark Development, the company buying the John Groom School in South Hill, received an extension to purchase the property from the county. Carter said, “due to a change in the federal tax laws they needed more time to arrange their financing.” County Attorney Russell Slayton added, they “must close by Aug. 1 or they will forfeit the earnest money already paid to the county.”

Landmark Development is looking to buy the school, which recently was named to the National and Virginia Registers of Historic Places, and convert the property into mix-use housing. Financing is partially dependent on federal historic tax credits, which were limited under the new tax law enacted by Congress last year.

» During board member comments, Dan Tanner criticized towns that continue to hold local elections in May, resulting in what he called an “embarrassing turnout.” Brodnax is the only local community to hold their general elections in November, along with county offices. “I would encourage anyone to see how much that election cost per vote,” said Tanner. “Most towns are struggling to pay their town budget as it is, and they could use the money for other issues.”

» Claudia Lundy, the head of the joint education committee, said the School Board is still working on a design for the new school complex, but VDOT is “holding things up.” The highway department has not completed its traffic study for the proposed school site near the intersection of Wooden Bridge and U.S. 58 in Baskerville. According to VDOT the study must be completed before they will allow an ingress/egress point onto the school site from U.S. 58 and before VDOT will consider the county’s request to install a stoplight at the intersection.

» Gregg Gordon said that he and Andy Hargrove will continue their work to find a site for the new trash convenience center near Clarksville. He said they are trying to find a location near a Highway 58 interchange.

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