County won’t back push for taxing power

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County won’t support an effort to give all counties the power to tax cigarettes.

The Board of Supervisors failed to approve a motion to adopt a resolution of support to ask the Virginia General Assembly to grant counties the authority to tax cigarettes. The motion failed on a 3-3 vote. Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisors Steve Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese voted in favor of the motion. Vice Chairman Richard Walker and Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz voted against the motion.

The resolution supported by Warren County supervisors and a growing number of other counties pushes for the General Assembly to pass legislation that would give the same taxing authority granted to cities and towns.

Arlington and Fairfax counties also can tax cigarettes. Even with the authority on the books, counties would need to adopt local ordinances, following public hearings, to set up the tax levy.

“I will admit I have a distaste for legislature through taxation and I believe citing any product, whether it be cigarettes at this point or guns or anything else at another point, is inappropriate,” Walker said.

The vice chairman, who recently attended an orientation session with other newly elected supervisors in Richmond, cited a “complete level of complexity” built in to the taxation of cigarettes as a concern.

Helsley said counties lack the ability to impose taxes that towns and cities can. Giving counties the power to tax cigarettes would provide some equality with cities and towns, Helsley said.

“Our only method really of raising revenue, through the Dillon Rule, is real estate,” Helsley said. “So, number one, this would, you know, in a broader sense, put us in a better position as to making us more equal with the cities and the towns.”

People who don’t use or buy tobacco products would not pay the “sin tax,” Helsley added.

“I know that Delegate (Todd) Gilbert said that, you know, if he was to vote for it we would have to have a reduction in our real estate rate,” Helsley said. “I thought that was very interesting because I can very well remember that four years ago, five years ago, the state of Virginia sent us a bill for $3.1 million up here and they said you need to pay this $3.1 million send your money to Richmond.

“They did not say over here on the other side we’re going to appropriate you $3.1 million because we’re charging you a tax here and so we’ve got to equalize it over here … and so it appears to me what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander,” Helsley added.

Bailey said she couldn’t support the resolution because the revenue generated from a cigarette tax would go toward general government spending, not specific purposes such as to pay off debt or to cover health costs related to using tobacco products.

“It’s, in most cases, to grow government,” Bailey said.

Neese reminded the board that the legislation, if passed, would give counties the power to tax cigarettes should they choose to do so.

“It’s not automatic,” Neese said.

Also at the meeting, the board:
• Voted 6-0 to adopt a resolution concerning the supervisors’ appointments to committees. Under the resolution, District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker will serve on the Conservation Easement Authority and the Agricultural and Forestal District Advisory Committee.

Walker will serve on the Community Policy and Management Team and on the Library Board of Trustees. Bailey will serve on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Helsley and Neese will serve on the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission.

Helsley will serve on the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority Board and the Social Services Board. Neese will serve on the People Inc. Board of Directors and the Planning Commission.

Shruntz will serve on the Tourism Advisory Council and the Water Resources Advisory Board.

• Held a public hearing on proposed changes to the county code section pertaining to tax relief for senior citizens and disabled property owners. No one spoke during the hearing.

• Heard a presentation from James Kelly, a certified public accountant with Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates who said the county received a favorable audit for fiscal 2015.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or