By Carol Vaughn —
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors in budget discussions Monday approved instituting a 40-cent per pack cigarette tax.
The board at the end of the meeting voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing to take comment on the fiscal year 2023 budget, which includes changes the board made to the version proposed by Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason last month.
Hearings on the budget and proposed tax rates will be held Monday, April 4, at 6 p.m., at Metompkin Elementary School.
The cigarette tax could bring in around $422,000 in annual revenue, Mason told the board.
The tax originally was proposed to help pay for additional emergency medical services positions, but the board by consensus put it in the proposed budget as general fund revenue.
“Anything we can do to increase like that will take some pressure off of real estate (taxes),” said Supervisor Donald L. Hart Jr.
Unfunded mandates from the state, such as a proposal to eliminate the grocery sales tax, put increased pressure on localities to raise the real estate tax rate, according to Hart.
Supervisor Harris Phillips noted travelers and visitors to the county as well as local residents will pay the cigarette tax, adding to county revenue.
Other budget-related actions approved Monday include adding funding for a second exit for the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, for safety reasons.
The board also added a camera and secure locked door that was requested for the county attorney’s office, at a cost of $2,000, which is in addition to $2,000 already in the budget to install doors with windows in other county offices.
While some supervisors questioned $2.5 million in the budget for the county’s share of a new school board office, the board left the item in.
The school board office currently is in the county administration building.
A meeting room in the proposed school board office could also be used by the board of supervisors.
The school budget includes $4 million for the project.
Supervisor Harris Phillips asked about instead renovating the Accomac library building and Supervisor Paul Muhly said the $4 million should be used in the classroom. He noted the new library in Parksley, when completed, will include a large meeting room, which could serve the board of supervisors as a meeting space.
The board asked staff to return with more information about space needs, but left the item in the budget.
Supervisor Ron Wolff asked to include Accomack’s share for an additional position requested for the Eastern Shore of Virginia 9-1-1 center, to which the board consented.
Supervisor Donald L. Hart Jr. asked to include $20,000 requested by the Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence for increased operational costs, to which the board consented.
Supervisor Robert Crockett agreed, saying, “What would it cost us if we didn’t have them?”
Finance Director Reports on General Assembly Actions
Accomack County Finance Director Margaret Lindsey told the board a cost of competing adjustment for Accomack public schools was not included in either the House of Delegates or Senate budget bill.
The COCA is intended to help the school district offer higher teacher salaries in order to better compete with neighboring districts.
Still the Senate version only does include a one-year, $1.649 million supplemental allotment for Accomack schools and also an allotment for Northampton schools, Lindsey said.
Additionally, the legislature has proposed $15 million be included in the budget for statewide teacher recruitment incentives for teachers hired after Aug. 15.
The budget has not yet been finalized by the General Assembly, which is scheduled to adjourn March 12.
Lindsey said the House and Senate budget versions both include eliminating the grocery sales tax. In the House version, the full 2.5% is eliminated; in the Senate version, 1.5% is eliminated but the local portion remains.
If the tax is eliminated, Accomack could lose around $864,000 in fiscal year 2023 and $970,000 in fiscal year 2024, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation.