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For Waynesboro residents reassessment period comes to an end…but the bleeding goes on

Posted by Stephen on May 10, 2007

“Even though you feel bad for them, there’s not much you can do,” said Board of Equalization member Jax Bowman. “The house is worth what it’s worth.”

With that the reassessment period comes to an end in Waynesboro this week. Little has changed for some 300 residents that raised complaints over assessment increases that approached 40% this year. Adding to homeowners’ frustration is the knowledge that the city is going to do little to relieve the extraordinary increases that they are now harnessed with.

The News Virginian reported that Jerry Ponds, whose holdings include the site of Solid Rock Café and Fisher Auto Parts, said he was ready to move outside city limits at this point.

“I love it here,” he said. “I’ve always loved it here, it’s been good to me. … But the taxes are just getting to be too much. We’re being penalized for owning property is what it is.”

Ponds also stated that if the city doesn’t lower the rate in a significant fashion than a quarter of his rent income would go to taxes. In most cases that will mean that tenants will be facing significant rent increases. The domino effect will harm Waynesboro’s economy, chase businesses out of town, and leave a community wondering what happen to the prosperous days of economic growth and lower taxes.

Lewis Price, owner of multiple home rentals in Waynesboro commented to the NV that he’d like “for them to wake up and redo the whole thing,” he said of the 2007 changes. “I know that would be costly, but it’s not fair the way they got it.”

Price added, “I have to go up on my rents to get by and you’d be surprised how many people cry, I mean tears, saying, ‘Mr. Price, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have enough left to live on.’”

What is important for citizens to keep in mind is that these struggles have nothing to do with the assessment of homes and the accompanying increases seen this year. The state could increase your assessment by 70% and it should have no impact on what a homeowner pays the City of Waynesboro, because the city controls the ability to adjust the tax rate.

Sadly, the majority on council are attempting to suggest that their hands are tied, there’s nothing they can do, and that the bureaucratic beast must be fed. As a result little more than a token reduction in the tax rate can be expected. They will attempt to suggest in some fashion that they are lowering taxes. The fact of the matter is the majority, led by Tom Reynolds, will attempt to pass a 14 cent tax increase. That is what a rate of 72 cents will be, because tax neutral is 58 cents.

Of course, in what the majority will describe as desperate times in Waynesboro, they seem to have little problem justifying allocations of 300 thousand dollars to a theatre owned by a private enterprise. It is probably important to note that the intention of the WTA is to give the theatre back to the city once they obtain grants supported by state tax dollars, opening the door to a long term relationship with you the tax payer. Not only do you get to provide tax dollars today, but you will be spending tax dollars to operate the facility for years to come.

That’s 300K that could have added to tax relief. That’s 300K dollars that could have been placed in the Capital Reserve Fund that the City Manager has consistently stated needs council’s attention. That’s 300K dollars that could have gone to keeping promises made during the last elections.

Then again, city residents have to be getting used to unrealized promises and unfunded mandates by this majority on council. First, citizens were told that the Wayne Theatre was a dead issue and that it would not come before council again. Yet, for the past year the only issue of note that this majority has pursued with passion is the theatre. Next, citizens heard that the new council would approach challenges in a “systematic” and “plan-full” way. Yet, in the past year the majority on council has used your tax money to publish a book, buy a clock, and find a way to spend 300K dollars on a theater owned by a private developer.

In the mean time, campaign promises continue to go unrealized. Candidates that make up the majority talked of the need to address the needs of our children. There were numerous complaints made that there was little for our kids to do, that tennis courts were dilapidated, park playgrounds were deteriorating, and that city equipment was archaic and in disrepair. Unfortunately, the focus on the Wayne has provided the majority an excuse for their failure to live up to the expectations of citizens.

How many tennis courts, I wonder aloud, could have been repaired with the 300K dollars spent on the Wayne? How much playground equipment could have been repaired or replaced with the 300K dollars spent on the personal agenda of the majority on council? What elements of city equipment could have been addressed with 300K dollars given to a privately owned facility?

As the city approaches the acceptance of this budget they do so under the premise that storm water management expenses will be covered by a new fee that they hope to implement by October. It is a fee that is supported by Tom Reynolds who now has the rest of majority on board. It is another issue, along with the Wayne, that the majority on council has flip-flopped on. At one point there was a discussion regarding a user fee, than Council members Nancy Dowdy and Lorie Smith flipped to the notion of taking the money out of the general fund. Now, we have flopped back to the idea of a fee or utility.

The problem is two-fold. First, the storm water runoff plan that the city is promising as the solution for the city is going to do little for basement flooding. The plan that is being executed addresses street flooding only and does little if anything to address subterranean water, which this majority promised it would do. Second, this fee, supported primarily by Reynolds, will charge some businesses as much as $21,000 a month. The majority on council considers that ‘fair’.

If this council is able to push this fee through the ‘exit’ sign will be lit and businesses in this community will be fighting to get out of town. While some people may consider that acceptable, it is important to note that the growth this city worked to obtain, the growth that allows the city to keep taxes lower, and the growth that employees citizens and provides the choices of products and services we enjoy will leave during this exodus. There are going to be severe consequences that citizens will be forced to realize resulting from the actions of this council.

As a result, the work done during recent years to lower the cities debt while increasing the capital reserve fund, which has led to an excellent bond rating, will also be in jeopardy. The only solution to raising revenue this majority has to offer is to borrow money and raise taxes. When the combination of these elements, which include barrowing money-raising taxes-and running bussiness out of town, converge we will face the perfect fiscal storm and the devastation of an economic collapse in Waynesboro could be realized in short order.

Waynesboro was once an industry town that enjoyed tremendous prosperity. When industry began to deteriorate nationally, Waynesboro suffered. The city has made a monumental comeback by utilizing sound fiscal policies by using budgeted funds responsibly to address necessities while preparing to support capital projects for the future.

Unfortunately, this majority is poised to throw it all away. This majority makes up the naysayers in our community that thumb their nose at the tools for progress while pursuing personal agendas and pet projects to the detriment of the needs and desires of the rest of the city.

Upon her reelection Dowdy publically stated that “it’s a new day in Waynesboro.” Sadly, we had no idea how right she was going to be. The dream this majority promised has turned into a nightmare this city is going to have to fight to reverse.

We can only hope that the coming elections will present the city with candidates that understand the role of government, have a desire for the city to progress economically and socially, have knowledge of fiscal principles, and are people who actually bring plans for success to the table instead of campaign slogans and fancy catch phrases.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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