Grim budget in IOW

Published 10:22 am Friday, October 15, 2010

ISLE OF WIGHT—Foreclosures and unemployment are up and home construction is down.

That’s what Gerald Gwaltney, Isle of Wight’s commissioner of the revenue, told the Board of Supervisors and School Board at a joint meeting Tuesday night.

Despite the news, Board of Supervisors Chairman Phillip Bradshaw said education must remain a top priority for the county as it allocates its shrinking revenue.

“We have a quality education system that far exceeds a lot of the areas,” he said.

Foreclosures have added to a glut of unsold homes in the county, Gwaltney said.

“Homes listed for sale, plus the increased number of foreclosed properties on the market, have driven down the demand for new homes,” Gwaltney said. “It now takes about 13 months to sell a home in Isle of Wight County. Many contractors cannot afford to finance one or several homes for that amount of time waiting for a sale to occur.”

While dealing with the effects of the economic recession, Isle of Wight also stands to lose $5.7 million in revenue next fiscal year because of the shutdown of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill and associated businesses.

That, Gwaltney said, will increase the county’s reliance on real estate taxes. Real estate taxes represent about 54 percent of the county’s tax revenue. By fiscal year 2012, that share is expected to grow to 67 percent.

“To put it simply, relying on the real estate rate, which generates 67 percent of our revenue, is not healthy for the budget,” he said. “There needs to be some diversity between the categories.”

Rachel Yates, the school division’s finance director, said the school division could lose funding for a minimum of 10 teaching positions once federald stimulus funds dry up in coming years.

One silver lining for the county is its tax collection rates. Chief Deputy Treasurer Dahlis Atkins told the boards the county has a 97 percent collection rate for personal property taxes and a 98 percent collection rate for real estate property taxes.

The county didn’t increase its real estate tax rate of 52 cents per $100 of assessed value during the last budget cycle.

“None of us like to talk about tax increases,” Bradshaw said, noting the county and the schools would likely both face multimillion-dollar shortfalls in coming years with current tax levies.

Gwaltney said the key to the county’s recovery is jobs.

“I do think it’ll get better,” he said. “It’s just a question of when.”

The two boards scheduled another joint meeting for Jan. 11.