An open letter from Jim Hudson to the Citizens of West Point:
I write this letter to provide the Town citizens the latest information on the tax dispute between the Town and the King William County Board of Supervisors. I have started this letter a number of times over the past months, only to suspend writing as new conversations started, new positions were taken, and I again hoped that an amicable resolution could be reached. Unfortunately, the idiom “one step forward, two steps back” accurately describes the Town’s dealings with the County.
We have had a significant tax issue between the Town and King William County during this year’s budget process. The Town prepared and adopted its 2013-2104 budget relying on the split levy method of taxation for real estate which has been used for a hundred years by the County. Without any notice whatsoever, the County changed its method of real estate taxation and advertised a uniform levy. The King William Board of Supervisors’ publicly stated reason, apparently based on advice of counsel, was that the split levy which had been used by the Town and the County for all those years was suddenly “illegal”. Interestingly, in 2009 the Circuit Court for King William County ruled in favor of the County in a tax dispute with Smurfit Stone, that the split levy was constitutional and an acceptable method of taxation. This ruling was made at the request of the County. The position that the County is now taking with the Town is completely opposite from the County’s position on the split levy just four years ago.
About 300 Town residents appeared at the King William budget public hearings, opposing the uniform levy and the resulting increased taxation which would be imposed on them while the Board lowered taxes on the other four districts. Nevertheless, the Board adopted a budget based on a uniform levy. The Board stated that they would have continued to use the split levy method if it were “legal”. Curiously, the use of the uniform levy means that the County will collect $3,800,000 in taxes from District One (the Town is District One in King William County) this year, but only remit $3,000,000 to the Town for operation of the school system.
This odd turn of events forced the Town to file suit in King William Circuit Court, asking that the Court rule the split levy to be legal, basically confirming the same Court’s ruling of four years ago (The Town also sued the County over the illegality of their budget advertisement and notice of the real estate tax increase in District One. The County corrected the advertisement and conducted a second public hearing to correct the illegality.). While many Town residents wished for the Court to order the Board to continue using the split levy, the Court does not have this authority. After negotiations between the two governing bodies, the Town and the County entered into a Consent Order, entered by the Court in May, 2013, setting out our mutual “intent to achieve passage of specific legislative authority for a split levy from the 2014 Virginia General Assembly”, agreeing that “the legislation should provide for a fair and equitable method of allocating economic resources to both the county and the town, as well as their respective school divisions.” As set forth in the order, the stated “goal of the parties is to identify what funds will be used by the Town and the County for the support of their respective school systems, and to have those funds from the Town go directly from the Town to the Town’s school system.” The Court’s Order required that the Town and the County meet jointly, at least once a month in July, August and September for the purpose of preparing draft legislation.
At the time of entry of the Consent Order, the members of the Board of Supervisors continued to state repeatedly that they did not have a problem with the split levy, they just wanted to make sure there was proper authority for the split levy.
Your Town Council and the King William Board met jointly on July 31, August 29, September 26 and October 2. In preparation for drafting the legislation, the Town felt that we needed a tax model for consideration and agreement by the bodies to ensure that the Town taxpayers were treated fairly now and in the future. To that end, Council engaged the services of financial and legal consultants who, with Town staff and the Town Attorney, created a model which accomplished the letter and spirit of the Court’s Order. As you might imagine, the County staff formulated a competing model. As you also might imagine, County staff’s model, while coming to generally the same current tax results as the Town model, would penalize Town taxpayers disproportionately from the taxpayers in the other districts if certain changes occur in future County revenues. The Town’s position in our proposed tax model and our draft legislation is very simple: the County and the Town each pay to operate their own independent school divisions; jointly shared services which are provided by the County are to be funded out of the County’s General Fund; taxpayers in Districts One (the Town) through Five pay equally into the County’s General Fund to pay for those shared services (in other words, all County residents pay the same for shared services); the County pays the Town for any services which the Town provides for the benefit of Districts Two through Five. In the Town’s opinion, this concept is direct and eminently fair. This premise was opposed by the County. At the Town’s suggestion, sub-committees were established to consider the tax models and compensation to the Town for services provided to be benefit of other County residents. Those sub-committees met on June 30, August 13, August 14, September 10, September 11 and September 16. In addition, many informal conversations have occurred between Board members and Council persons, and between the staffs of the two bodies.
While some progress has been made, it is my duty to report that we have not reached an agreement despite the Town’s best efforts. Even though the County agreed to the terms of the Court’s Order and endorsed it for entry by the Judge, there now appear to be some among County staff and, apparently, the Board who think that the Order does not mean what it clearly says. The County now says that it is up to the County to decide whether there should be a split levy or a uniform levy, and the County now wishes to maintain this authority.
Since the County and the Town were unable to agree on legislation by October 1 for submittal to the General Assembly, the matter has been referred to mediators as the Court ordered. Even while the mediators work toward facilitating an agreement, your Council continues to talk with those Board members who are willing to talk. I believe it is preferable for us to decide our own fate rather than having others decide it for us. I also would like to demonstrate some measure of cooperation and stability to the broader business community who may be considering investments in our County, if it is not too late.
Discretion being the better part of valor and hoping against experience that we can come together as reasonable people and co-exist to the benefit of all of the County citizens, I refrain from saying some of the things that are on my mind and weigh heavily on my heart. Suffice it to say that this process has been like trying to nail Jell-o to a tree. I applaud our Town Manager and his staff for their work above and beyond the call of duty. They have put in long hours of work, often trying to hit a moving target, without a hint of frustration or complaint. Their understanding of the tax process and the models far outpaces mine and I thank them for their patience. The Town Attorney has been available day, night and weekends to advise, interpret, draft and redraft in search of documents which incorporate the Town’s objectives but also address the County’s concerns. Finally, I am thankful for your Town Council. They are smart, articulate, and they “get it”. This Council is truly a credit to the Town. They have worked unbelievably hard to comply with the Court’s Order and get a fair result for the Town citizens. The fact that an agreement hasn’t been reached is not due to any lack of effort and cooperation on their part.
Council is mindful of the tax burden on the Town residents and the Town’s demand for quality education and services at a reasonable cost. Regardless of how the mediation and subsequent legislation comes out, we continue to look for ways to address those demands and concerns. One lesson is clear from this controversy – for so long as the Town remains a part of King William County, we must increase our scrutiny of the actions of the Board and staff. We must demand openness in government and increased accountability. We have only one representative on a County Board of five. This places us at a distinct disadvantage, especially if that Board acts provincially instead of making decisions which benefit the County as a whole. In light of this we should be prepared to use all political and legal means at our disposal to ensure that the people of District One are treated fairly.
As always, Council welcomes your constructive comments, questions and suggestions.
Jim Hudson, Mayor
Patches are still available!
The West Point Police Department is supporting breast cancer awareness and research. These patches were provided under a generous grant from the Elis Olsson Memorial Foundation with support of members of the Mattaponi Crime Solvers with all the proceeds going to breast cancer awareness and research.
Call the police department (804-843-2800) to purchase one for only $10.
Town of West Point Police Department Receives the designation of being the smallest accredited agency in the Commonwealth.
The West Point Police Department was awarded accredited status by the Virginia Law En-forcement Professional Standards Commission (VLEPSC) at the West Point Town Council meeting held on October 29, 2013. Chief Emmett Harmon of the James City County PD (representing VLEPSC) and Mr. Gary Dillon of the Department of Criminal Justice Services presented the certificate which now proudly hangs in the front foyer of the police depart-ment. Also in attendance to show support of the department and this accomplishment were Sheriff Jeff Walton of King William, Sheriff Wakie Howard and Chief Deputy Joe McLaughlin of New Kent and Retired Chief Tom Clark.
Of the nearly 400 law enforcement agencies in Virginia, the West Point Police Department is one of only 89 agencies to become accredited. The Department also has the designation of being the smallest accredited police department in the Commonwealth.
The VLEPSC accreditation program is designed to measure and confirm compliance with the professional standards recognized as the best management practices of the law en-forcement community. In Virginia, law enforcement agencies can seek and achieve accredited status but they are not required to do so. This process is completely voluntary which further distinguishes the West Point Police Department for their commitment to professionalism and their willingness to be measured by and compared to the best in the profession.
National Blue Ribbon Award
It is my pleasure to inform members of the West Point Pointer Family that West Point High School received notification that the school is the recipient of the National Blue Ribbon Award. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools. The National Blue Ribbon School program recognizes public and private schools for outstanding student achievement. The program is designed to highlight best practices in educational leadership and teaching. The Virginia Department of Education nominated West Point High School as one of only two high schools in Virginia for the 2012 award. West Point High School was one of only 269 schools to receive this award, out of more than 100,000 U.S. schools. Since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education has sought schools in which students meet and/or exceed rigorous academic achievement goals. The National Blue Ribbon Award is the result of exemplary student achievement and the hard work of a dedicated and talented staff. This is a return on our community's investment in the students of West Point Public Schools and the emphasis placed on a quality education for all students.
Please join the West Point School Board and me as we offer congratulations to members of the West Point High School on receiving this prestigious honor.
Jeff Smith, WPPS Superintendent
This link has been provided for additional information on the National Blue Ribbon Schools program.