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Fact Check: Is Roanoke Co. Really Cutting Taxes?

Inflation is the reduced value of each dollar, which causes prices to keep spiking. Inflation hits small items, like four coffees at a Roanoke area McDonald’s costing $17.65, but it also impacts expensive items like house values. And with the multiplier effect of big numbers, inflated house prices take an even bigger bite. For one, they make it harder for people to escape renting and buy a home, which since the end of WWII has been a cornerstone of the American Dream. Second, they drive up real estate taxes. That hurts 1., the homeowners, 2., the landlords, and 3., the renters who get stuck with the higher bills passed along by the landlords.

Granted, inflation hits local governments too. Public employees understandably clamor for higher wages in an attempt…usually in vain…to keep up with inflation. Plus, local governments have to pay more for almost all the good and services they provide, including trash pickup, playgrounds, jails, road maintenance, etc.

As reported here on April 18, the issue of real estate taxes is playing a role in the GOP primary to choose a candidate to represent the Vinton District on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. Voting for that primary ends June 18.

In a follow-up Q&A on May 10 with current Supervisor Tammy Shepherd (R), The Roanoke Star asked both Mrs. Shepherd and her opponent Tim Greenway (R) the following question:

“Unlike many surrounding localities, at least Roanoke County has dropped its real estate tax rate: from $1.09 to $1.06 in April 2023, and then to $1.04 in April 2024. However, that recent two-cent cut is only a 1.89% reduction, and rising assessments are driving up tax bills. And as both you and your opponent pointed out, that has given the County an approximately $9.5 million windfall. If elected, will you follow the example of Governor Youngkin and issue rebate checks to all County taxpayers, to return part or all of that surplus to the taxpayers?”

Mrs. Shepherd: “Roanoke County is always focused on our citizens.  We are always looking for ways to give back to our citizens.  In fact, the Board of Supervisors has had a focus on giving back to citizens over the last several years.  Since FY2023 we have cut the real estate tax rate $.05 cents, cut the personal property tax rate $.10 cents, reduced the machinery and tools tax $.05 cents, and changed the threshold for business license. Additionally, Roanoke County increased the credit to citizens for personal property bills. Total tax relief to citizens total over $22 million.

“This year I voted to reduce the real estate tax by $.02 cents. And next week I will vote on a budget that prioritizes Roanoke County Public Schools and Public Safety while maintaining services for our citizens.

“If elected, I will continue to look for ways to give back to the citizens of Roanoke County. In fact, we will soon be meeting to review the tax relief program for the elderly and disabled and look for ways we may expand this program. I think previous actions demonstrates the Boards commitment to giving back and cutting taxes for our citizens.

“Also, the Board and I will always be eyeing ways to save our citizens money.  One additional way is the personal property motor vehicle license fee.  Next year we will be considering lowering or eliminating this fee.  This is approximately $20 per car.”

Mr. Greenway’s answer to the same question:

“What I won’t do is tell you how I will give the money back to our citizens without researching all possible taxes and avenues for getting the money back to our citizens.  What I will tell you is that I would given much more than a modest two-cent reduction to the real estate taxes back to our citizens.  We increased revenue by approximately $12 million and we gave back approximately $2.2 million.  I think we could have conservatively given half of this money back to our citizens instead of growing government by over approximately $9.8 million. We could start by removing some of the costs to our small businesses who create the majority of jobs in the market (Business license tax/PP tax/fees to operate/permit costs, etc.).  Lots of ways to get these funds back to the people who deserve the funds.  I believe the people know better than government how to spend their money.  Safety and education should be our primary focus!”

In a June 4 email, responding to questions about the real estate tax issue, Roanoke County Spokeswoman Amy Whittaker elaborated:

“[I]t should be emphasized that the County is required to assess real property at market value, which it does. Further, it is important to note that the Board has, despite inflation and the increased costs in providing the same level of services to County citizens, lowered the real estate tax rate for the past two years, demonstrating their commitment to giving back to citizens.”

In contrast to Roanoke County’s cutting the real estate tax rate, Roanoke City and Salem have not. Anecdotal evidence indicates assessments and taxes in Botetourt and Franklin Counties have skyrocketed, triggering angry outbursts on social media.

Yet, is Roanoke County really cutting taxes? Consider these two real, Roanoke County property owners.

Cave Spring District

YearAssessmentTax Rate per $100Tax 
2022$242,400$1.09$2,642
2023$262,100$1.06$2,778
2024$290,700$1.04$3,023

This Cave Spring homeowner is paying $381 more in real estate taxes this year than in 2022, despite the rate per $100 being 5 cents less. That is a 14.4% increase in only two years.

Vinton District

YearAssessmentTax Rate per $100Tax 
2022$311,000$1.09$3,390
2023$350.300$1.06$3,713
2024$375,700$1.04$3,907

This Vinton property owner is paying $517 more in real estate taxes this year than in 2022, also despite the lower rate. That is a 15.2% increase in only two years.

Some may argue that it’s fair to pay more in real estate taxes, because the value of the homes have gone way up. However, those property owners do not realize any gain until they sell their property, and then where will they live? If they buy a new home, they are hit with a double-whammy. Paying through the nose in this inflated market, and still having to pay real estate taxes on their new home.

In sum, the fact check.

Q. Is Roanoke County really cutting taxes?

A. Sort of. As Mrs. Shepherd noted, County Supervisors have cut the personal property tax rate 10 cents, the machinery and tools tax 5 cents, and the real estate 5 cents per $100 of value. However, that’s cold comfort for the Cave Spring homeowner who is paying $381 per year more in real estate taxes this year than just two years ago, and all the other
County property owners who have to write bigger checks twice a year not to mention paying more in gas, groceries, and most everything else.

And for next year and beyond? As our national debt keeps soaring and thus the value of each dollar keeps shrinking, we can expect inflation to keep growing.

And if a property owner does not pay the tax? The local government seizes the property and sells it at auction. So on some level, does the “homeowner” truly “own” his or her home, and is it that much better than renting?

-Scott Dreyer

 

 

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