Supervisors endorse meals tax referendum
For the second time in eight years, Henrico County voters will be asked to approve a meals tax.
But if the measure fails this time – as it did by 151 votes in 2005 – county officials are warning that they may have no choice but to raise the county's real estate tax by as much as six cents per $100 of assessed value to close an $18-million shortfall in the proposed 2013-14 budget.
During the final day of its four-day budget review meetings, the county's Board of Supervisors Thursday unanimously endorsed County Manager John Vithoulkas' meals tax referendum proposal, informally authorizing Vithoulkas to proceed with plans for a referendum Nov. 5.
A simple majority of votes cast is required to pass the measure. The meals tax is expected to raise about $18 million annually – money that would be dedicated specifically to fund school system needs.
Vithoulkas' formal request for consensus from the board about the meals tax referendum followed four days of budget reviews, during which the board heard from the heads of each county department and, earlier Thursday, from the School Board and Superintendent Pat Russo. A common theme among the agencies: budgets have been trimmed nearly as far as possible, and future cuts will necessitate layoffs or service reductions.
Vithoulkas told supervisors that the county had cut or absorbed more than $115 million in the past four years and pointed out that slightly more than 90 percent of the collective funding allocations for the school system and divisions of police and fire in his budget proposal would be spent on salaries and employee benefits, leaving virtually no room for other cuts.
"I believe based on what you have seen, that this county does not have an expenditure problem," Vithoulkas said. "I think that's been made abundantly clear. There is a need for additional resources going forward."
The county had hoped to win the authority to implement a meals tax without voter approval from the General Assembly during this year's session, but that idea did not enjoy enough support in the Assembly to become reality. Counties must be granted the authority to impose such a tax, but cities and towns can implement it without the Assembly's approval.
Vithoulkas' proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14 assumes about $18 million in funding that currently does not exist. He told the board that there are two options for creating that revenue: passage of the meals tax or a 6-cent increase of the real estate tax.
"What I see right now, I have not seen in my career," Vithoulkas told the board. "We have been able to navigate as a county, collectively, to this point. Going forward, I do believe there are difficult days ahead." He urged supervisors not to raise the real estate tax – which has been lowered six times in the pats 35 years but never raised during that time – because it plays a significant role in attracting economic development projects to Henrico.
Supervisors agreed, though they balked at the proposed wording of the meals tax referendum question Vithoulkas presented to them in draft form today. That wording would have asked voters in part whether they would endorse the meals tax for the purposes of "avoiding a real estate tax increase of six cents per $100 of assessed valuation."
Brookland District Supervisor Dick Glover objected, saying that he didn't want to lead voters to believe that passage of the meals tax would preclude the board from raising the real estate tax at any point this year or in the future, should such a need arise.
"I don't want to tell my citizens that we are going to limit ourselves with how we pay what we have to pay for," he said.
In response, Vithoulkas removed the phrase entirely, and the board expressed its satisfaction.
County officials have estimated that 40 percent of the revenue collected from the meals tax would come from non-Henrico residents. Vithoulkas also pointed to the City of Richmond – which has had a 6-cent meals tax for a number of years – as proof that such a tax does not hinder restaurant growth. The city's restaurant sales grew more than 28 percent between 2006-11 – exceeding such growth in Henrico by nearly 5 percent during that time.
"We have a tool that is available to 203 other localities in the Commonwealth of Virginia that could be available to us," he told the board, citing the number of other state localities that currently impose a meals tax. The 4-cent tax proposed in Henrico is the maximum allowable meals tax for Virginia counties, though there is no restriction on the amount that cities or towns can charge in their localities, Henrico County Attorney Joe Rapisarda said.
Creation of a new recurring revenue source would help fill the gap not only in this year's budget, Vithoulkas said, but also in future years. In Fiscal Year 2014-15, the county is expected to face minimum shortfall of $33 million – including more than $21 million in the school system, which will open a new elementary school this fall. In total, Henrico officials have identified necessary capital improvement projects (land acquisition, construction and renovation work) totaling nearly $1.7 billion in the next five years, but Vithoulkas' budget would fund just $6.8 million of those needs.
The board is expected to vote formally July 9 to authorize the meals tax referendum, which also must earn the approval of Circuit Court Judge L.A. Harris and the U.S. Department of Justice before appearing on the November ballot.
County officials cannot advocate for or against a referendum, but elected officials can. Varina District Supervisor Tyrone Nelson said that he would do so, and he encouraged other board members to do the same.
"If this meals tax referendum is defeated, then we're right back where we started," he said. "We have to do our part."
The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.
Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.
Citizen Staff Reports 09/15/2014
Henricus Historical Park will commemorate its anniversary during Publick Day, a signature annual event that celebrates the establishment of the second successful English settlement in the New World. In September 1611, Sir Thomas Dale, along with soldiers, tradesmen and farmers, ventured from Jamestown to create the Citie of Henricus. Leaders of Henricus developed the first English hospital, chartered the first college in North America, established tobacco as the first cash crop in Virginia, and created a place where Pocahontas lived and met John Rolfe.
Publick Day will take place Saturday, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and parking is $5 per vehicle. > Read more.
As part of its 30th anniversary year and partnership with the Children's Museum of Richmond, Commonwealth Parenting will present a six-part RVA Parents Forum Series to address some of the toughest issues confronting parents.
Parenting experts and family educators will tackle topics ranging from bullying to alcohol, sex to divorce, and technology and stress. Parents will learn how to identify potential problems.
"We're excited about bringing this much-needed forum series to parents in central Virginia. Through our valuable partnership with Commonwealth Parenting, we can have a deeper impact in the community through parent and caregiver education," said Karen Coltrane, president and CEO of the Children's Museum of Richmond. > Read more.
Check out these three B’s in Henrico this weekend: books, bluegrass and “Born Yesterday.” Other activities to participate in – and feel good about – are the 15th annual James River Regional Cleanup and the 5th annual Richmond Out of the Darkness Community Walk. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
Inspirational football movie tries too hard for its own good
When the Game Stands Tall is based on a true story – an unbelievable true story that takes the word “inspiring” about as far as it can go.
It’s a film about Bob Ladouceur, coach of the De La Salle High Spartans, a California high school football team with 12 consecutive undefeated seasons (a staggering 151 games won in a row).
Along the way, Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel) faced the kind of hardship most football coaches (thankfully) can only imagine – suffering a near-fatal heart attack, the death of a star player, and rebuilding the team after that 151-game streak came to a humiliating end. > Read more.
Enjoy political comedy at its finest with The Capitol Steps at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Methodist and Baptist churches unite for the fourth annual Mission Footprint 5K, taking place at Trinity UMC. Or in honor of Grandparent’s Day on Sunday, treat them to A Grand Family Affair or maybe a movie – the 1978 film “Superman” is at the Henrico Theatre. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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