- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 February 2010 18:29
- Published on Wednesday, 03 February 2010 18:29
- Hits: 513
The Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors will conduct their first evening meeting of the new year on Monday, Feb. 8 beginning at 7 p.m. in the old A.T. Johnson auditorium.
With property reassessment concerns on the mind of just about every county citizen, the topic of the unanticipated increase in area land values is certain to be a topic of discussion.
The Jan. 27 deadline for citizens to challenge the findings of Pearson Appraisal Services Inc. has already passed, but members of the reassessment team continue to hold meetings with individual property owners who requested an opportunity to confer or challenge values associated with the 2010 real estate assessment notices they received in the mail approximately one month ago.
Although the Pearson team initially reported that the average property value rose 21 percent in the most recent four-year interval, some values have already been lowered as a result of landowner meetings with the appraisers. The result is an average increase of 18 percent, but members of the public are far from satisfied.
Last Monday night the Westmoreland County Citizens Association experienced record turnout, despite that night’s inclement weather. Property owners expressed outrage and disbelief. The real estate market could not possibly support the reassessment numbers, unhappy residents alleged. Land values have been going down instead of up.
A Pearson spokesperson told the supervisors in December that county sewer projects doubled the value of many properties in those service areas, but some landowners attending the association meeting reported 400 percent increases outside the county’s sewered areas.
The Journal spoke to County Administrator Norm Risavi last Thursday and Risavi made it known that the reassessment team is listening to the people and can be expected to expand its market analysis. Risavi expressed confidence that an across the board adjustment will occur, with the average reassessment increase falling approximately 7.5 percent.
A 7.5 percent decrease in real estate values will not, however, satisfy the concerns of landowners who received notice of a 400 percent increase. People in Westmoreland County are worried about their livelihoods and the national economy. Some longtime residents are becoming increasingly afraid that they won’t be able to raise enough money to pay their county tax bills.
Risavi is aware of the people’s rising fear and expects to avoid increasing county taxes, despite the rash of state and federal cuts that will affect county department and school division operations.
In early 2008 this paper reported the details of a memo dispatched by Risavi to county government department heads. The document warned that bad times were coming and included an instruction to eliminate unnecessary travel and discretionary spending.
The county administrator hadn’t forgotten the memo when he responded to this reporter’s question: “When will the auditors deliver their report on the 12-month period that ended June 30, 2009?”
Colonial Beach Council had been scheduled to hear a reporting from their auditors on Jan. 28. The county’s auditors will report to the supervisors next Monday night and Risavi promises the report will put a lot of concerns to rest.
By last week the county administrator already had a draft copy of the audit report and on June 30, 2009, the county was $1.5 million better off than it had been one year ago. Next Monday the residents can expect to hear the auditor tell supervisors that a $1.5 million surplus was created during the 12-month interval that is scheduled to be the subject of the Feb. 8 report.
The $1.5 million Westmoreland County surplus will be needed because the county school division is faced with a $1.5 million shortfall in its next operating year.
Virginia has already spent the $500,000 county schools expected to receive next fiscal year — money that was part of the 2008 Economic Recovery Act’s stimulus package.
In addition to loss of the stimulus money, the school division has been advised that it will lose another million dollars in state and federal aid. Division Superintendent Elaine Fogliani immediately made it known that the county government would be expected to make up the revenue shortfall. Local taxes would have to go up in order to maintain the educational standards that are currently in place. The alternative would be across the board pay cuts for school division personnel and elimination of multiple positions.
As those reports emerged, Risavi joined the chorus with word that the other county departments faced significant reductions in state and federal support. He expressed a wish to avoid increasing taxes, even if the consequence means painful cuts in county government. The school division would not be expected to stand alone in the austere environment.