Predictable outcome

Published 11:44 am Saturday, May 8, 2010

Southampton County farmers didn’t like it a few years ago when we predicted in this space the ultimate outcome of land-use taxation, which significantly lowers the property tax burden on large landowners who agree not to develop their land.

Absent a significant reduction in spending by county government, we said at the time, the millions in taxes saved by farmers would be shifted to homeowners and vehicle owners.

The chickens have come home to roost.

In a draft fiscal 2011 budget approved by supervisors last month, real estate taxes, already high compared with other rural Virginia counties, would go up 7 percent to 77 cents per $100 of assessed land value, and personal property taxes on vehicles would go up a whopping 22 percent to $5.50 per $100 of assessed value.

Supervisors will hear public comments on the draft budget at a hearing on Monday, May 17.

We have nothing against the land-use program, whose goal of preventing unchecked residential growth is laudable. We certainly have nothing against farmers, whose hard work feeds and clothes this great country.

But Southampton County can’t have it both ways. You can’t take $2.35 million per year out of your tax base — as supervisors did with the enactment of land-use taxation in 2006 — then turn around and build new schools, expensive sewer systems and industrial parks. Unless, of course, you sock it to Joe Q. Taxpayer, which is what the draft fiscal 2011 budget would do.

County leaders have another option that doesn’t get nearly enough attention and consideration, in our view: making government smaller and more efficient.

Perhaps county government could take a cue from the state of Virginia, whose leader, Gov. Bob McDonnell, this week followed through on an executive order he issued moments after taking office in January. The Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring was appointed Friday and given a fast-track task of recommending ways to streamline state government.

“In light of the unprecedented budgetary challenges facing the Commonwealth and the increasing demand for core public services, government must become more effective and efficient,” McDonnell said. “The commission will work to put forth bold and innovative ideas to ensure that duplicative, outdated, unnecessary and ineffective services and service delivery methods are eliminated and that state revenues are dedicated to the core functions of government.”

Importantly, the commission includes a number of leaders from the private sector, which knows a thing or two about cutting costs and operating efficiently. In business, you either do so or you go under. Unlike in government, there’s no open spigot.