Isle of Wight discusses goals for 2017: growing fund balance, attracting businesses

hismith@dailypress.com

An Isle of Wight Board of Supervisor member suggested raising real estate taxes 5 or 6 cents this year, to prevent further debt and to be able to afford a cost-of-living-adjustment pay increase for county employees, during a work session Thursday.

Grice, who's served on the board since January 2016, said the revenue could help with rising medical costs, dips in Social Security disbursements and with the county's upcoming approximate $850,000 annual bill for the emergency radio loans.

"Since there isn't any fat in this year's operating budget, and to my knowledge, there aren't any grant or fund monies available to service this loan, we need to increase tax revenue," Grice said. "We face a debt service wave coming at us in 2018, 2019. ... I'm recommending we raise taxes this year on residential properties."

The county collected $36.2 million in real estate taxes last year. The tax rate is 85 cents per $100 of assessed value.

In contrast, chairman and seven-year-member of the board, Rex Alphin, said during the meeting he would like to see the limiting of any tax increases in the future.

Tax strategy was one of a variety of topics the board discussed during the work session on goals for the upcoming year, alongside improving relations between the towns and county, and adding to the county's general fund balance.

Alphin and Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson mentioned the importance of adding to the general fund when possible. Jefferson said the county needs to provide raises for county employees and should focus on supporting small business growth.

"If there's anything we can do to help relieve some of the burden of the small businesses, I think we need to look at that," Jefferson said.

Grice also said the county should push harder to attract new companies to the area and the industrial park, he said.

"We built the field and they didn't come," Grice said. "We better go get them and we better keep trying to get them until they come."

New and larger clients is the only way the county will be able to diversify its tax base, Grice said.

Supervisor Joel Acree said the county should come up with a way to let citizens know they are continuously meeting with potential clients and actively scouting businesses. County spokesman Don Robertson suggested the board could quantify the number of visits the county has had from potential users to the industrial park to let citizens know the county is working to attract new businesses.

The board agreed on the importance of streamlining the permit process for citizens and businesses. Jefferson and Vice Chairman William McCarty both suggested creating a demonstration model for citizens on the permit steps and process. McCarty suggested creating a video on the subject the county could make easily available to citizens.

The demonstration videos would be a valuable tool "because it would be a virtual look at what the process is," McCarty said.

Acree mentioned the importance of the volunteers in the county. The fire and rescue squads not only save lives, but a lot of money as well, he said. Volunteers should continue to be recognized for their service, he said.

"I think we're doing a pretty good job now, but there's always room for improvement," Acree said by phone after the meeting.

The county should look to its fire-and-rescue volunteers as experts who help shape the vision for the county in relation to public safety, he said. He also said he hopes the county can move toward performance-based raises.

The first meeting of the year led Acree to reflect on his past, and first, year of service on the board, he said.

"I'm really proud to be a part of the team that the citizens have put together," Acree said. "I think we're (supervisors) different in a lot of ways, but we definitely share the dedication of trying to serve our citizens."

The first Board of Supervisors meeting of the year will be 5 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Isle of Wight County Courthouse, 17140 Monument Circle.

Smith can be reached by phone at 757-510-1663.

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