Shenandoah Board, Legislators Talk Issues
Obenshain, Gilbert Plan To Keep Local Interests In Mind
Posted: December 13, 2012
WOODSTOCK — Sen. Mark Obenshain and Del. Todd Gilbert told the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors they plan to keep county interests in mind during the next legislative session in January.
Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Gilbert, R-Woodstock, met with the board last week to address concerns and answer questions about the upcoming session and legislation they plan to pursue.
The General Assembly convenes Jan. 9.
The machine-and-tools tax and funding for public education were among the issues that dominated their conversation.
“Our board has a grave concern, particularly with the machine-and-tools [property] tax,” said Board Chairman Conrad Helsley.
The tax is levied on machinery and tools used in manufacturing and mining as well as in other industries.
Last year, a bill supported by Gilbert was introduced that would have eliminated the tax. The bill failed in the House by a 2-to-1 margin.
Helsley said the board sent a resolution opposing the legislation and he fears it may resurface in the upcoming legislative session.
The tax accounts for $2.3 million in revenue for Shenandoah County.
“It represents considerable revenue for us that’s just going to be gone [if the bill passes],” Helsley said.
Gilbert said his position has not changed.
“I’m in the same place I’ve always been,” he said. “[The tax] is part of an arcane tax system that we have in Virginia.”
Although Gilbert expressed sympathy for the board’s plight, he said he would advocate a redesign of the tax system to find other forms of revenue to replace it.
“Focusing on punishing the types of businesses that generate that tax is the wrong approach to our tax system,” he said.
Obenshain said he does not anticipate any dramatic changes in the funding streams to localities this year. The state contributed about $37 million to Shenandoah County last budget cycle, including general fund and education funding.
“We hear you. I hear you,” he said. “We have a number of taxes [in Virginia] that are out of date. We really need to look at how we generate revenue. We owe it to our communities to look for opportunities to maybe refashion some of [them].”
Supervisor David Ferguson expressed concern over funding for public schools and mandates that dictate where the money can be spent.
“If education is a priority in the state of Virginia, we need to see more money flowing into education so we can continue to improve the services that we are providing our students today,” he said.
Gilbert said that though he agrees with the importance of investing in education, he believes that pouring money into school systems haphazardly does not necessarily result in higher performance or productivity.
Obenshain said that while he understands the frustration with the state budget, he feels that frustration is misplaced.
“We have increased education funding consistently,” he said. “For me, it is a priority. I agree with [Gilbert that] … pouring money into the same model isn’t going to do anything other than preserve the status quo.”
Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli brought up the difficulty supervisors and the Shenandoah School Board faced in the previous budget cycle when changes to the Virginia Retirement System required a complete overhaul of their spending plans.
A mandate that came out of the 2012 General Assembly session required localities to give public workers a raise to compensate for a new requirement that they contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the state-based retirement system.
Obenshain said he is not aware of any similar surprises planned for this year.
“I sure hope not,” he said.
Contact Kaitlin Mayhew at 574-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org