IOW approves tax levy

Published 11:07 am Saturday, May 28, 2011

ISLE OF WIGHT—After hearing positive and negative reaction to Isle of Wight County’s 25 percent property tax hike, supervisors voted 4-1 to approve the levy for the 2011-2012 budget.

Smithfield representative Al Casteen cast the dissenting vote.

Before the vote, residents were allowed to weigh in on the tax hike for the $91.1 million budget adopted earlier this month.

After recognizing the county’s good fiscal management in the past, Ed Easter told the board he supported the tax increase.

“IP put us in jeopardy from the standpoint of revenue, and we can stand still or solve the problem,” Easter said. “We have to pay for what we want.”

Others were not so supportive.

Walters Highway resident Joe Joyner said the county for years has been taking credit for an artificially low tax rate — which will increase from 52 cents to 65 cents — based on artificially high real estate assessments.

“I wouldn’t sell (my home), but you should not try to tax me out of it,” Joyner said.

Herb DeGroft, a resident of the Hardy District and a county school board member, asked the board to reconsider shared services with the schools to cut spending.

“You’ve had opportunities before, but never had a plan of action of where we wanted to be,” DeGroft told the board. “There have been some attitudes standing in the way.”

He suggested sharing information technology between the county and schools, which was proposed in 2007 and went nowhere.

Thomas Fenderson called the 13-cent tax increase “unprecedented” and told the board if it wants residents to go along with it, the board would have to be seen as fiscally responsible.

Fenderson brought up closing Windsor Middle School and sending students to the elementary and high schools rather than building a new one. He said there were 200 fewer students enrolled in the schools than when they attempted to bring middle and high school students together when Windsor High School was built.

“It would matter to poor people,” Fenderson said of the savings. “I am beginning to think I am one of them. People would appreciate everything you can do.”

Newport District representative Stan Clark defended the board, saying the only reason for the tax increase is the loss of revenue from International Paper.

Clark defended the building of the new courthouse campus in Isle of Wight and the new animal shelter, calling the conditions at the previous shelter “abysmal. ” He said before the new $10.5 million courthouse was built, the county was paying rent for county offices offsite, and the county can now have three courtrooms running at once, which he said would also lead to savings.

“I wish we’d had a crystal ball then we could’ve probably done things differently, but we didn’t,” Clark said. “We all thought the economy was going to continue on the way it was going, but it didn’t.”

Clark also mentioned that the county would look at revenue once the budget takes affect and see if the tax can be lowered by as much as three cents.

“We have the flexibility to go down,” he said. “We can’t go up.”