By Carol Vaughn —
Six people spoke at a public hearing Monday about the proposed Accomack County fiscal year 2023 budget and four spoke at a hearing the same evening about proposed 2023 tax rates.
The board is set to vote on the 2023 budget Monday, April 11.
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors held a work session Wednesday, April 6, to continue its budget deliberations and to hear from County Assessor Brent Hurdle about the 2022 real estate reassessment process, after hearing from residents concerned about double-digit property value increases in certain parts of the county.
Three communities — Chincoteague, 30.8%; Captains Cove, 19.2%; and Onancock, 18.8% saw average double-digit increases. The countywide average increase was 9.51%.
“The county needs to reevaluate their assessment system. It’s obviousloy not working,” said Don Ruthig, of Onancock.
He said his property’s assessed value increased 26%, while a neighbor just beyond the town limits saw an increase of only 1%.
Peter Holt, of Onancock, said the value of his home on Meadville Drive increased 42%.
Chincoteague resident Carey Cezar said her assessment went up 30%.
“I’m concerned that it could go up that much in a two-year period,” she said.
Billie Ann Bowden, a 76-year resident of Chincoteague, said the value of the home where she has lived for 31 years increased just under $100,000 in the 2022 assessment.
“It’s too much. I’m a widow. I have a fixed income,” she said.
At Wednesday’s work session, Accomack County Assessor Brent Hurdle spoke about the assessment process and noted there are three avenues for property owners to appeal their assessment, including, first, discussing it with the county assessor; second, making an appeal to the Board of Equalization, which is appointed by the Circuit Court judge; and third, appealing to the Circuit Court.
The county uses a mass appraisal process, Hurdle said, noting the around 41,000 parcels in the county must be valued as of Jan. 1 of the assessment year.
If the countywide median assessment falls below 70% or above 130% of fair market value, the state can withhold funds generated by ABC store sales.
Since the proposed budget was advertised for the public hearing, several events that affect the budget and tax rates have happened, Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason told the board of supervisors Monday.
Those include a federal award of $8.2 million for the regional 9-1-1 radio communications project, which was funded in the proposed budget by issuance of debt which can now be downsized; the war in Ukraine and the associated spike in fuel costs; notification of an unprecedented increase in used vehicle values, which increased 22.3% on average; and the failure of the General Assembly to pass a state budget, leaving several aspects of the local budget in limbo.
The nearly $80 million budget advertised for the hearing represented a 20.7% increase over last year, but it included nearly $7.4 million in capital expenditures for the 9-1-1 system, which now will not be needed.
The operating budget increases 8.6% over last year, including $1.84 million in additional local funding for the schools under a revenue sharing formula; 10 new positions, including four sheriff’s deputie; 5% cost-of-living increases for county staff and the local share of a mandated 5% increase for state-supported local positions; a $196,000 increase in the Eastern Shore Regional Library operating agreement; and $220,000 for the second year of targeted salary adjustments for Department of Public Safety first responders.
The budget on the capital side includes $2.5 million for the county’s share of a separate school administration building, as well as funding for landfill equipment, public docks and ramps repair, other 9-1-1- equipment and facility expenses, airport improvements, and maintenance and improvements to other county facilities.
The budget also projects revenue from a new cigarette tax of 40 cents per pack, which Mason said “will reduce the tax burden on … the typical real estate owner.”
Three people at the budget hearing spoke against the cigarette tax.
Megan Evans, vice president of business operations at Dixieland, near the state line, said the tax will have a negative effect on revenue and the store’s employees.
She supervises 20 employees, and said after Maryland’s gas tax holiday affected sales, revenue was lost and she had to send employees home early.
The cigarette tax could make things worse for the business, according to Evans.
“I do not believe you will get the results you are looking for by increasing this tax,” she said.
Dixieland owner J.R. Pikullski said regular customers who travel to the store every two to three weeks from the Salisbury and West Ocean City areas likely will not do so if the tax is added to their cost.
Victor Evans, of Sanford, a cigarette manufacturer sales representative, said “dynamic changes occur” where a tax is implemented.
Mason said Wednesday staff is gathering information from cigarette wholesale groups, which could result in a recommendation for a lower rate. Still, he said the information and analysis of it is not yet complete.
Supervisor Ron Wolff pointed out that speakers from only one cigarette sales business spoke at the public hearing, although there are others in the county.
Mason at Wednesday’s work session asked for and received consensus from the board to reduce the real estate tax rate from the advertised 61 cents to 59 1/2 cents per $100 valuation to provide some relief for taxpayers.
He also received board consensus on reducing the personal property tax rate, temporarily, only for vehicles, passenger, trucks, and motorcycles, from the advertised $3.72 per $100 valuation that was advertised to $2.90.
The reduction will not include other categories of personal property, such as airplanes or boats.
Mason also received consensus to remove expenditures for the 9-1-1 communications project from the budget.