County pitches meals tax to legislators

Henrico County officials made their pitch for a 4-percent meals tax to the county’s General Assembly delegation last week, telling the group that the proposed tax was their last resort to create revenue and close an $18-million shortfall in next year’s budget before raising real estate taxes, cutting services or laying off employees.

Henrico lacks the authority to implement such a tax on its own, so officials want the General Assembly to grant it that authority, with the provision that the county’s Board of Supervisors must unanimously support it.

A total of 204 other Virginia localities already have meals taxes, including 45 other counties – four of which were specifically granted the right to implement the tax by the General Assembly.

“We have evaluated all the alternatives, and this has the very least consequence,” County Manager Virgil Hazelett told the nine delegates and senators who attended. “People will object – some people – but they will not object to police officers, to teachers [and other county services].”

Hazelett and Finance Director Brandon Hinton presented an impassioned argument to the Assembly delegation, recounting how in just their past three fiscal years, they have trimmed nearly $97 million from their total budget and eliminated or frozen 721 vacant government and school positions in an attempt to compensate for $84 million in lost revenue from declining real estate taxes and state funding.

The county also has refunded $317 million in debt through bond refinancing since 2009 and has weathered the storm without cutting services, laying off any employees or raising taxes, Hazelett said.

But a significant jump in the amount localities must pay into the Virginia Retirement System on behalf of employees looms large on the horizon, as do road maintenance and construction needs in Henrico that total $418 million but have no current funding source.

County officials have pointed to the fact that Henrico is the only state locality that maintains its own secondary road system but lacks the authority to collect a meals tax. (Arlington, the only other county that maintains its own roads, was granted the right to implement such a tax in 1990.) Locally, Richmond imposes a 6 percent meals tax, Ashland a 5 percent tax and Louisa County a 4 percent tax.

Henrico officials estimate that about 40 percent of all prepared meals purchased in the county are bought by non-Henrico residents, which would lessen the impact of such a tax on county residents. And unlike a real estate tax increase, residents would be free to avoid a meals tax by not dining out or by limiting their dining excursions, Board chairman Dick Glover said.

“A meals tax is not something we’d impose on them that they can’t dodge if they want to,” Glover said.

A 4-percent meals tax would generate between $18 million and $20 million annually, Hazelett estimated. He and board members told the Assembly delegation that they likely would not designate that money for any one particular use but rather apply it as needed.

Delegate Jimmie Massie wondered aloud whether it would be difficult to convince other members of the General Assembly to support a tax increase for just one locality.

Deputy County Manager John Vithoulkas, who will assume Hazelett’s position in mid-January, suggested that the delegation could take another route by supporting the passage of language that would authorize all counties that maintain their own road systems to have the same taxing authorities as cities. (Cities inherently have the right to implement meals, cigarette and admissions taxes.)

Henrico could enact a meals tax if a majority of voters supported the idea in a referendum, but they seem leery of trying that route again after voters defeated it in 2005 by 153 votes.

Varina District Supervisor Tyrone Nelson told the delegation that without the Assembly’s approval of the issue, Henrico’s would not survive unscathed.

“If you can’t support a meals tax, then our issues are not going to go away,” he said. “This is a last resort. A tax is going to come up or we will have to cut services or lay people off. We don’t do that in Henrico, and we don’t want to do this, but this is where we are. We need your help.”
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Democrat VanValkenburg kicks off Gen. Assembly campaign


Senior students at Glen Allen High School will get a personal touch when studying elections with their AP government teacher.

That teacher, Schuyler VanValkenburg, recently announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 72nd District seat in the House of Delegates. If he earns the nomination, he will run against Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who has been unopposed for 10 years.

VanValkenburg, a 2004 University of Richmond alumnus who majored in history, is running for office for the first time. Although he has lived in Richmond since he began his undergraduate studies, aside from one year spent in Seattle, he said he never felt it was his time to run. > Read more.

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The negotiators presented their budget to their fellow lawmakers in time for the required 48-hour review, which could be completed by Friday night with a chance to adjourn their 2017 session before Saturday’s target date.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate praised the spending plan’s conservative fiscal policies. > Read more.

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At a news conference, representatives of the ACLU of Virginia and other civil rights organizations criticized anti-immigrant measures passed by the General Assembly. They also condemned the recent spike in deportation raids on immigrant communities in Virginia by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. > Read more.
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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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The Henrico Ambassador Program for Seniors (HAPS), a free, bi-annual program open to adults 55 and older, will meet March 1 at Libbie Mill Library and March 8 at Tuckahoe Library. Both sessions are from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The program will give participants the opportunity to learn about various community agencies, County resources and services provided to older citizens, caregivers and their families. Space is limited. Register by Feb. 28 to 501-5065 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Full text

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