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Tracy Pyles: Doing the math on Augusta County reassessments

Tracy Pyles
house for sale
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I have a daughter-in-law who shares one of my joys: math. So much so that she put an “m” in front of  “athlete” and wears a shirt proudly announcing she is a “mathlete.”  It warms my soul.

But because this shirt is not in the same demand as, say, “I’m with stupid,” I fear this column, of math and numbers, will be a dud. Nonetheless, I offer it more as a public service than a feel-good criticism of the elected elites squandering our money.

The Social Security Administration increases pensioner checks based on inflationary factors seen in basic goods and services such as food, energy, and medical. Since the 2019 reassessment, those cumulative increases amount to a bit over 22%.

According to Augusta County’s online 2023 Comprehensive Financial Audit (p. 195), our folks have seen their personal incomes increase by 22% in the five-year period of 2018 to 2023.  Which tracks evenly with how much more it costs to live. No getting ahead, just treading water.

One expects the County’s budgetary costs and salaries to keep pace with broad-based financial pressures. But as employee compensation is far and away the largest county spend, new hires can disrupt budget consistency.

Augusta County added 89 new employees, a 17% growth, in the last five years while only experiencing a 3.5% population growth. If each new employee’s average net compensation is $50,000, then the demand for our earnings increases by $4,450,000.

“Doing more with less” is a given in the world of competitive industry, our family budgets, but unknown in the monopolies of government.

My last year on the Board was 2018. It is also the last year for small government conservatism. Since then, local taxes have risen 36% from $77 million to $104.5 million. Without a gate keeper, the hogs run wild.

So where should the tax rate be set with the new values? My house in downtown Churchville increased a bunch, from $249,000 to $368,000. This plus the intervening tax rate increase from $.58 to $.63, projects my taxes up 60% from 2018.

Using math – $249,000 x .0058 = $1,444.20, $368,000 x .0063 = $2,318.40. Up $874.20.

Even our soul-crushing, tax-adoring, masters of misery will not try to justify a 60% tax hike. Instead, expect a sad song of all the pressures of a new courthouse, inflation, body cameras, and a new doghouse, meaning the best they can muster is a return to $.58.

But that is too much, far above need and what we can afford. Let’s go to the calculator one more time.

Shown below are Real Estate rates when holding the line on taxes, increasing 22%, and at our former tax rate of $.58 per $100 of value:

$368,000 x .0040 = $1,472 (+$28 = 0%)
$368,000 x .0048 = $1,766 (+ $322 = 22%)
$368,000 x .0058 = $2,134 (+ $690 = 48%)

After the 2009 reassessment the Board lowered the tax rate from $.58 to $.48 allowing a neutralized level of receipts. The world did not end, the county did not go bankrupt. We managed our spending instead of abusing our people. The county can easily live with the generous 22% increase at $.48.

My home’s increase will not be precisely what the entire county’s will be. But from what I have heard, it is not an outlier to what others are experiencing.

At the end of March, the Supes will lay out their supposed spending and taxing plans for Fiscal Year 2025. Maybe they will surprise us. (Breath holding not advised) Until then challenge your assessment if you think it out of line. But don’t yet tell the bank to add $100 monthly to your mortgage escrow.

Instead call on a team of mathletes to prepare to number-crunch in April. With visors snugly fit ask for the cost of needs and then the over-taxing left for pork-barrel allocations.  The clarity of math, revealing budget gluttony, is the best tonic to relieve us from what ails us: taxation without justification.

Tracy Pyles is the former chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.