By John Peters
June 15, 2014
We have often praised the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners for sticking to its commitment of reducing the city’s tax rate — last week the board dropped it another 4 cents per $100 of assessed value.
But sometimes lost in reporting on and writing about the city board’s efforts over the past few years has been the Surry County Board of Commissioners, which has been equally adept at keeping costs down while continuing to offer a high level of professional services.
The county board has kept its tax rate at 58.2 cents per $100 of assessed value for the past five years, no easy feat given the increasing demands on the county, state programs that have hurt the county’s ability to effectively collect tax revenue, not to mention the Great Recession and its aftermath which cut down on those tax revenues.
Of course, the county is divided into a number of fire districts, each of which has its own supplemental tax rates to help pay the costs of fire protection services. While those volunteer fire departments pay for most of their work through fund raising, they are dependent upon this county tax revenue.
Several times in recent years fire districts have asked for increases, primarily to help pay for capital or equipment needs, to replace equipment, or to meet new federal safety regulations. Recently, commissioner Larry Phillips brought back an idea which had been considered in recent years, that of setting aside a set amount — his suggestion was $150,000 — that could be used by fire departments for equipment needs.
The idea is that the fire departments would apply for the money as if applying for a grant, detailing the specific manner in which the money would be used. Presumably, the money would be for one-time expenses as opposed to operating costs.
We think this is an excellent idea, and one the board should seriously consider. This serves the dual purpose of affording the county’s fire departments money they might need for these one-time necessary expenditures, while keeping tax rates in the various districts flat.
As most know, when a tax rate is raised, it can be exceedingly difficult to get that rate back down, even if it’s hiked for a supposed short-term need.
This plan keeps the fire district tax rates at their current levels, while meeting growing needs by the fire departments.