GATE CITY — The Scott County Board of Supervisors decreased the real estate tax rate, but county officials said an increase for 2024 is likely.
The BOS approved a 77-cent real estate tax rate at its regular meeting Wednesday. The current rate is set at 80 cents, Chairman Danny Mann told the board.
“I recommend we lower it some,” Mann said. “We have to do something for the folks of this county.”
The tax levy vote came after multiple complaints about the reassessment and stumbling blocks regarding the Board of Equalization throughout the year — from the dissolution of the original board and a newly appointed group, to multiple citizens voicing concerns and confusion about their property reassessment rates at various BOS meetings.
“We can’t do anything about the reassessment,” Supervisor Darrel Jeter said before making the motion to lower the rate. “In my opinion, the only thing we can do is change the taxes. My opinion is we should help the citizens out and reduce the tax levy by what we can to where we can get by, whatever amount that would be.”
The deadline to set a new real estate tax levy was set for the end of August. However, Scott County Administrator Freda Starnes said at the meeting the state’s department of taxation granted Scott County’s commissioner of revenue an extension.
Starnes told the board a 74-cent real estate tax levy would leave the county’s $30 million-plus budget for the next fiscal year at a $162,000 deficit. A 76-cent rate, she said, would allow the county to “break even.”
County officials also cited increased costs across the fiscal year 2023 budget as another reason to lower the real estate tax rate while still setting it above the break-even minimum. Mann said the county’s budget included a $1.2 million increase for the school system in addition to more than $2 million needed to run the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Duffield, which started out requiring around $600,000 at its start.
“All this stuff is going up,” Mann said. “I hate it for the taxpayers, but this stuff has to be funded. We have to pay the bills.”
For Supervisor Stefanie Addington, the coming need for a real estate tax increase is cause for concern before the board is tasked with revisiting the tax levy.
“We have to not only think about this year’s budget, but we have to think about what is going to happen,” Addington said. “We have to set the county up for success in that respect. If (the county’s financial needs) go up, we need to prepare for that. I think it would be irresponsible not to.”
The future was also front of mind for Supervisor Jeremy Herron.
He said his tax reassessment showed a 98% increase, but, he added, the rate hadn’t changed over a 12-year period. Instead, he suggested the county reevaluate the tax levy each year rather than wait for the state-required tax levy consideration.
“We’ve got to come up with a plan to look at the levy every single year instead of waiting until four or six years,” Herron said, “and increase (the levy) as needed — instead of waiting that six years and increasing a big amount.”
The work isn’t quite over just yet, at least where the equalization board is involved.
Starnes also told the BOS that the Board of Equalization would need to meet with a representative of the software company, Stonewall, that is used to input the reassessment information.
“There are some issues with some of the work from the Board of Equalization as far as calculations and such,” Starnes said. “That is going to have to be worked through with the lady that is putting the changes into the software.”