12 June 2013
Decisions, decisions. Many are in the works but none were made Wednesday afternoon (June 5) at the Board of Supervisors meeting. Instead, the Board spent its time listening to presentations and discussing options in four areas of county interest: voluntary “tax” contributions, code compliance and county businesses and cell phone stipends.
County administrator Steve Nichols began his presentation on voluntary “tax” contributions by summarizing his research on the success of the practice in other counties. Prince Edward County ran a school-donation form of this program from 1996 to 2007 after a familiar budget battle in which citizens lobbied the government to raise taxes to fund the schools. Apparently, in those 11 years, the county received a whopping $339.73.
When Albemarle gave it a try, in the fall of 2010 only, officials tucked flyers into bills so that citizens would be better informed about their opportunity to donate. This effort did much better, yielding $2,500.
Nichols favors the flyer route, especially because there isn’t room on the tax bill to add anything else. More than that, though, he hopes to have the idea up and running on the county’s web site even before December tax bills come due, with donations paid by credit or debit card.
Based on the other counties’ data, Nichols doesn’t expect the program to bring in much money. For that reason, he wants to make sure the policy is “as crystal-clear as possible” from the get-go so as to avoid putting even more staff hours into a non-lucrative endeavor.
With that in mind, Nichols outlined the questions left to consider. Certain exclusions will have to apply: For example, the county won’t be able to accept contributions toward new hires, as spotty donations can’t be relied upon for constant funding. Also, a policy must exist for the rejection of donations. Someone who donates money earmarked for a community swimming pool, say, would have to receive her money back, since the county currently has no plans to build one. Another difficulty presents itself in the hypothetical scenario of a person who owes back taxes yet chooses to donate. According to County Attorney Fred Payne, Treasurer Linda Lenherr will be forced to apply the citizen’s donation toward the back taxes instead.
When Payne began talking about the difficulty of accounting for a hypothetical donation of $500 for girls’ lacrosse team mouthguards, he broke off, saying, “I hope we make more than $339 because it’s not going to take very long to eat that up in staff time.”
“We did that already with this presentation,” Nichols said.
“I did that since I started talking,” Payne joked in response.
“So stop talking!” Supervisor Don Weaver declared. Heeding his thrifty advice, the Board moved on.
During new business, Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch pushed for the position of code compliance officer to be extended from 20 hours a week into a full-time position. “Voluntary compliance” to sign ordinances troubles him, because those who diligently pay fees and apply for permits come out worse for wear in terms of time and trouble when compared to their less scrupulous (or knowledgeable) neighbors who merely stick signs in the ground and hope for no fines.
Also, Ullenbruch expressed perturbation at his conviction that there are many businesses here in Fluvanna that the county does not officially know about. Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan assured the Board that his office keeps an up-to-date list for the purposes of sending out tax bills. Nonetheless, Ullenbruch believed that a full-time code compliance officer could rectify the situation as he saw it. After much discussion, the issue was postponed for research.
Towards the end of the meeting, Nichols reintroduced the idea of cell phone stipends. Currently, the county manages over 20 cell phones and their plans for employees whose job requires them. Nichols proposed that the county adopt a more “progressive” system by simply paying a stipend and having the employees manage their own cell phone affairs. According to Nichols, many employees are in favor of this streamlined approach. Although Payne pointed out legal problems that may arise, most of the members of the Board felt that those obstacles could be overcome and gave Nichols the green light to pursue a fleshed-out policy.
Finally, Fluvanna art lovers have cause to thank the Dave Matthews Band, whose Bama Works Fund granted the county a to-be-determined amount, probably $10,000, for the purpose of constructing an amphitheater at Pleasant Grove.