Editorial – Town Council does the right thing on tax rate

Published 7:10 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2024

We’re never thrilled about a tax increase, but the Smithfield Town Council made the right decision by adopting a 16-cent real estate tax rate, up from the 14-cent rate it approved last summer before being forced into a “do-over” because of a botched notification of citizens. 

Eight months later, five of the council’s seven members set the rate at 16 cents per $100 of assessed property value. We commend Michael Smith for making the motion and Steve Bowman, Jeff Brooks, Valerie Butler and Raynard Gibbs for supporting him at last week’s council meeting.

Actually, the town’s new rate is lower than last year’s 19-cent rate, but because of recent property reassessments and higher values, town coffers will take in more money.

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That extra money will potentially allow the town to further adjust wages come July 1 for underpaid employees without having to tap into federal COVID-19 relief funds, which will be preserved for one-time capital projects rather than depleted by ongoing operating expenses.

If an increase in Virginia’s minimum wage is adopted by the General Assembly, Smithfield will be a step ahead in complying, as Bowman noted to colleagues during debate on the tax rate.

House Bill 1, which has passed the House of Delegates, would raise the minimum wage from $12 per hour to $13.50 effective Jan. 1, 2025, and to $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2026. Currently, the lowest-paid town employees earn $12.50 per hour.

Improved wages will make the town more competitive with neighboring governments and the private sector when recruiting and retaining employees.

Public-sector employees toil largely behind the scenes, but make no mistake about their value. And Smithfield is blessed with some jewels. We believe that competitive wages are essential to excellent public services and are glad to foot a higher tax bill to make it happen.

On a side note, we were pleased to see some disruption of the block voting that has been characteristic of this Town Council of late.

Bowman and Butler broke ranks with Councilman Randy Pack, with whom they’ve been aligned on votes of consequence since being elected mayor and vice mayor, respectively, in early 2023. 

Town governance is healthier when every decision is assessed on its merits rather than the interests of alliances. The tax rate is a great example: Two valid points of view were aired, and each council member arrived independently at their conclusions.

Richmond and D.C. lawmakers should follow the Smithfield Town Council’s example.