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We’ve met the enemy in Augusta County, and it is the county government

Tracy Pyles
Augusta County
(© Rex Wholster – stock.adobe.com)

People often ask me why the Augusta County Board of Supervisors continues to keep taxing, keep growing cash reserves while we taxpayers struggle to keep up with life and taxes. I couldn’t put my finger on it until meeting with County Administrator Timothy Fitzgerald and Finance Director Misty Cook. Now I know.

They spent a great deal of time blaming the system, the supervisors, and the state for tax and spending problems. It made me wonder why we pay them so much when no thinking or initiative is required. The state requires a balanced budget, of course it does.  But the need for tax increases comes when the administrator has no ability to find offsets to new wants, and the finance director keeps underestimating revenue.

It has become far too easy to make any supposed need remedied with increased taxes. County households have needs, too. Our cars get worn. If we don’t have the money, we wait, we fix, we make do. Of course, if we had the power to demand our neighbors to pay for it, most of us wouldn’t, but we aren’t smug, know-it-all, bureaucrats.

On one hand, Ms. Cook still blames Covid-19 for revenue inaccuracies, and on the other, Mr. Fitzgerald offers that all governments undercount to insure budget sufficiency. Oh my! What nonsense.

The budget is already built with a 15 percent, or about 2 months, funding buffer. The auditors in December described a fund balance of “$85,615,587 (that) is unrestricted or may be used to meet the government’s ongoing obligation to creditors and citizens.”

If two months buffer and $85 million can’t get us to a future June 30th, we’ve had a nuclear attack, and no one will care if Parks and Rec has to cancel an afterschool program.

But the impact of misinforming supervisors, and citizens, of actual best projections is higher taxes. And when today’s administrator can’t fit Board wants into the county’s ever growing revenues, he reminds us that he’s no Pat Coffield, our former county administrator.

During Mr. Coffield’s tenure, we spent upwards of $200 million on new schools – and real-estate taxes were never above $.58. We took paid F&R personnel from 14 to 105. We built and developed an industrial park and a regional jail within existing tax rates. A plan had been developed, put in Board minutes, as to how we could fund a $45 million Verona courthouse without a tax increase.

But it’s different now. Even after increasing the tax rates on meals, lodging, real estate, and personal property, and while adding a cigarette tax and now doubling it, they couldn’t fund law enforcement body cameras without a penny hit to real estate. This year an additional $12 million in taxes are required because, what the heck, the suckers are good for it.

The Supervisors must share the blame. At least that’s according to Mr. Fitzgerald. He noted he presents a balanced budget, but the supervisors add spending and taxes.

It’s been eight years since the county decided it needed a new courthouse, and three years at least since body cameras became a challenge. Mr. Coffield would not have put that on the supervisors. He had a no tax increase courthouse plan in 2017 but seven years later Mr. Fitzgerald needs new taxes for every penny of a $72 million debt.

This is still an agricultural county and needs an ag tax rate. Only half of us have county water, still two-thirds of the households have septic tanks, not county sewer. Don’t tell us how bad Rockingham is on taxes. We don’t need to look north to see what is bad. All we need to do is look at our tax bills.

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