An issue once thought to be dead — twice-a-year real estate tax collection — could possibly be resurrected again. At the Franklin County Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 18, Gills Creek District representative Lorie Smith broached the topic with supervisors.
Franklin and Botetourt counties are the only localities in the region that collect taxes annually. Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem, Giles County and Montgomery County collect taxes twice a year.
The issue was presented to supervisors in 2018 after the county’s financial advisers, Davenport & Co., recommended that the county consider changing to twice-a-year real estate tax collection and use what would be a one-time, fiscal year surplus to reduce the debt to fund capital projects. A public hearing was held in November of that year with supervisors ultimately voting against the measure.
Union Hall District representative Tommy Cundiff was opposed to the idea then and now. At the meeting Feb. 18, Cundiff once again voiced his opposition. “I am totally, totally against it,” he said. “I don’t believe in putting something on the people that they can pay any time they want to.”
While residents actually can pay their taxes anytime, most wait until they receive their notices in the mail. With a Dec. 5 due date, paying taxes can throw a monkey wrench into one’s holiday shopping. On the flip side, paying taxes in June could impact planned summer vacations.
But a switch to twice-a-year collection could result in additional funding that could be applied to capital projects or be used to boost the county’s reserves. Given that Franklin County’s fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30, taxes would be collected as usual in December (in 2018 the estimate was approximately $36 million) and half that amount again in June, which could result in an estimated $18 million surplus.
“We are not collecting any more taxes than we would otherwise. It’s just that timing difference,” Franklin County Finance Director Brian Carter explained to board members in 2018.
The idea even gained attention during last year’s elections when challenger Andy Turner ran against incumbent Margaret Torrence for the Commissioner of the Revenue seat. Turner, a Rocky Mount accountant, said he prepares tax returns for people and knows that many of them live on tight budgets.
“Having twice-a-year taxes would allow those folks to properly budget in earlier months so that they don’t feel the crippling effect at the holiday season,” he said.
Torrence, who won reelection, also supported the change but said the decision ultimately rests with supervisors.
At the Feb. 18 meeting, Smith noted those funds could help build a new career and technical education center at Franklin County High School or prevent a future tax increase. After debating the issue, Smith made a motion to move forward with the proposal by setting a public hearing date. The motion passed 4 to 2.
Has the time come for Franklin County to join other localities in the region and start twice-a-year tax collection? Certainly there are benefits to both taxpayers and the county.