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Comparison of tax rates by county: Should Stafford consider tax hikes to fund infrastructure?

July 21, 2017

The Weldon Cooper center at UVA has released it's annual compilation of Virginia local tax rates by county.  Considering some of the recent issues discussed here at BTW, from teacher raises to the Aquia Towne Center issue, it seemed like a good idea to investigate these numbers and see how we compare to some of our neighbors.  This WTOP article has a handy interactive map, which is the source of the image below.

 

Let's start with Stafford:

The map above shows the tax rates we pay in Stafford.  It is pretty self explanatory (at least to those who pay taxes.)  The "N/A" on the image means that Stafford County does not charge that particular tax, in this case cigarette or admissions taxes, which are taxes on things like movies, amusement parks, etc.  

 

BTW has compiled the area tax rates into a chart for easier comparison purposes.  These figures come from WTOP.  Special thanks to Dennis Foley at WTOP who gave BTW the Spotsy and King George numbers some readers have asked for.

 

 

 

 

Stafford is at the top of the spreadsheet.  Again, if you see "N/A", that means that locality does not charge that particular tax.

 

Looking at the data above, Stafford has the lowest personal property tax rate, a relatively low real estate property tax rate and doesn't not charge a cigarette tax or an admissions tax.  Hotel and meal tax rates are pretty comparable to all other counties, except Fauquier and Culpepper, where the hotel tax is only 2%.

 

Considering that 1) the BoS was unable to fully fund SCPS budget request which resulted in a 0% pay raise for our teachers with 10 years of experience or above and 2) all infrastructure needs funding in order to be improved, maybe some of these tax rates should be reviewed by the BoS.

 

To be completely clear, I am a fiscal conservative.  The idea of throwing more money at government makes me extremely nervous and honestly, a little queasy.  Often those in control mismanage funds, there are usually better ways to utilize what is already being given. However, if funds are being raised to go to a designated area, such as schools, it seems reasonable to consider increases or at least discuss them.  I have heard many people comment, both during the redistricting debate and the teacher raise discussions, that they would be willing to pay higher taxes if it meant that high school 6 would come to fruition or their favorite teacher could quit her second job.  

 

Having said that, let's look at where Stafford County could make some changes.  If you are going to discuss raising taxes at all, you should start in places where it has the lowest level of impact on residents.  You don't want to institute a "milk tax", which would be a burden to all residents,  when you could raise a hotel tax that would be passed on to non-residents.  You tax things that people need or must pay last. Let's look at the lowest hanging fruit first.

 

 Like these cuties

 

Stafford County does not charge a cigarette tax.  Maybe this is a throwback to the days of Virginia being a major tobacco producer.  While we are still the third highest producer of tobacco in the U.S., attitudes towards tobacco use has changed.  A wise man once told me you tax that which you want to discourage.  I think tobacco use is something we all want discouraged, maybe the BoS could investigate this sin tax and appropriate it directly to schools.  

 

Not many localities charge an admissions tax and to be honest, we don't really have many places to apply this tax here in Stafford.  When the new Regal Theater opens, whenever that actually happens, an admissions tax could be levied on ticket sales.  You could also apply this tax to things like the Stafford Fair.  No one needs to go to the movies or the fair, a small increase in cost of these activities could make a difference in funding our infrastructure, as long as these taxes could be designated to go there.

 

While our hotel tax is in line with other areas, it doesn't seem unreasonable increase it by 1%  to bring us up to Fredericksburg's level. While taxes DO discourage an activity, people traveling on 95 who need to stop for the night are a captive audience.  You aren't going to look at tax rates of localities when you have an exhausted, crying toddler in your car who needs to go to sleep after a long trip.  Since this is a tax that is passed on to non-locals, it seems like a pretty painless way to generate a little extra revenue.

 "But honey, we can't stop at a hotel here, the hotel tax is 1% lower 10 miles up the highway!" said no parent, ever

 

Again, our meal taxes are pretty in line with the other localities that charge such a tax.  Only Fredericksburg charges a higher tax at 6%. In Stafford County, raising this tax is a bit of a double edged sword.  BTW has discussed before that while meal tax revenue DOES go to schools, the BoS does not use it as a bonus as it was originally intended.  Instead, they project how much meal tax revenue will be generated and use this number to mitigate what the BoS has to contribute to school funding.  Instead of raising this tax, I would like to see the BoS be held to the way this revenue is intended to be spent, as a bonus to the schools.  

 

Of course, the best way for Stafford to get more tax revenue is to bring new businesses here, businesses that do not require an ungodly tax incentive to set up shop.   The idea of putting further burden on our residents is not a pleasant one.  Stafford's cost of living is already so high, many teachers can't even afford to live here.  While both our real estate property and personal property tax rates are low, it seems like raising those taxes should only be a very, very last resort.  However,  revenue generated by new housing developments does not offset the demands those homes place on our infrastructure.   The homes and the children who will inhabit them are coming.  If those in charge do not start coming up with some creative ways to fund our schools and infrastructure, tax increases or not, we will find ourselves in a world of hurt.  

 

What do you think, should Stafford consider some of the tax increases listed above?  Are there other outside-of-the-box ways the Board of Supervisors should be investigating to get some much needed revenue headed towards infrastructure improvements?

 

 

 

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