Smithfield Town Council pushes for further lowering of real estate tax rate

Published 12:25 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Smithfield’s proposed 2023-24 budget still calls for a 2-cent reduction in the town’s real estate tax rate, though some Town Council members say they’d like to see it lowered further ahead of a June 26 vote.

Town Manager Michael Stallings’ draft general fund budget, which totals $10.2 million, calls for a tax rate of 17 cents per $100 of assessed property value. 

Despite the proposed 10% reduction from the current 19-cent rate, Smithfield expects its real estate tax revenue will be roughly $500,000 higher due to the average 34% rise in single-family home valuations reported in Isle of Wight County’s recent reassessment.

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Isle of Wight retained Wampler-Eanes Appraisal Group to reassess home values this year in accordance with a provision of state law that requires reassessment every four years.

Stallings, in May, said a 14-cent rate would be “revenue neutral,” meaning the town would take in roughly the same amount of money as it did this year using the 19-cent rate and 2019 assessments.

As of May, Stallings’ budget had proposed a 5% increase in salaries for town employees. Councilwoman Renee Rountree, who had joined with other council members last month to ask Stallings to raise salaries at least 6%, called the 6.2% raises proposed “a lot” at the June 6 Town Council meeting, and proposed lowering the percentage to 5.4%, which she said would be more in line with the annual cost-of-living increase.

Rountree then proposed getting closer to the 14-cent rate by cutting $125,000 budgeted for consultants and other initiatives tied to implementing a “new vision” for the town, and making “tough decisions” with regards to the expense the town incurs annually to operate the Isle of Wight County Museum.

“I’m not saying that we close the museum. … I think we could be more efficient,” Rountree said.

Since 2014, Isle of Wight County has covered the cost of maintaining the museum’s physical location at 103 Main St. while the town has funded its personnel costs. Stallings’ draft budget calls for the town spending just over $241,000 in the coming fiscal year on its share of the museum’s costs, a 34% increase over the roughly $180,000 the museum cost the town five years earlier.

Councilman Jeff Brooks also wants to see the tax rate lowered to 14 cents, but he favors keeping the 6.2% salary increases.

Councilman Randy Pack noted that since the draft budget is based on the town receiving an additional $500,000 in real estate tax revenue, it would take $500,000 in cuts to get down to a 14-cent rate. But he believes getting down to 16 or even 15 cents might be manageable.

Mayor Steve Bowman also favors keeping the 6.2% raises, asserting that government budgets are often balanced “on the backs of” employees.

The June 6 Town Council meeting included a public hearing on the proposed budget, which drew no speakers.