Montgomery County is cheap
Only one Virginia county spent less per capita on education than Montgomery County last year — tiny Greensville County on the North Carolina border. As supervisors and residents suffer tax and budget heartburn, they ought to keep that sort of dismal factoid in mind.
The current property tax is 75 cents per $100 of assessed value. County Administrator Craig Meadows and his finance team on Thursday recommended a 12-cent increase, but even that falls short of what departments, especially schools, seek.
The rate would need to jump to 99 cents to pay for everything they want.
Some residents are ready to pay that much; others refuse. The schism cuts along the tired line of Blacksburg vs. everyone else. It also is tinged with tea party rhetoric and a parental sense of entitlement.
Supervisors will set the character of the county for years with this budget. After even a 12-cent increase, few people will have the stomach for another big increase next year or any time soon.
Every year around this time, the State Auditor of Public Accounts releases a handy report containing revenue and spending for each county, town and city. I spent some time digging through the county data last week.
Montgomery County’s tax burden and spending are very low compared to other counties.’
The per capita school spending figure with which I opened this column is a good attention grabber, but it is a little unfair. Virginia Tech students inflate the county population, skewing comparisons to per capita spending in other counties.
Every metric has strengths and weaknesses, but some are better. A straight rate comparison, for example, is poor because property values vary.
How much a county collects per person in property taxes is a decent point for comparison. Tech students, at least those who live off campus, pay property taxes, if only indirectly through rent.
By that measure, Montgomery County is cheap. The county collected $540 in property taxes per capita, considerably less than the state average of $678.
Nor does the county rely more heavily on other local taxes like the machinery and tools tax. Montgomery County’s local revenue per person, including taxes fees and other sources, is less than the state average, too. In fact, the county is among the least taxed per capita. It sits near the bottom of the list with the likes of Floyd and Craig counties. Meanwhile, counties like Fairfax, Loudoun, Albemarle and even Roanoke collect two or even three times as much per person.
The county therefore has less money to spend, and it shows. Per student spending, which is not affected by Tech students and includes state and federal funds, also is below average.
It is not fair that state leaders put Montgomery County in this position nor that fate and snow conspired against the county at the worst possible time.
Yet residents and supervisors cannot pin their hopes on the General Assembly coming to the rescue. Lawmakers cannot even pass their own budget, and they plan to divert up to $25 million to private and religious schools. Even if they find some scraps for localities, Montgomery County will still face big funding problems.
Residents and supervisors must ask themselves if they are willing to pay more for better schools and other services. They must ask themselves if they are content being like Craig and Floyd counties or if they aspire to be more like Albemarle and Loudoun counties.
Potential employers and residents will notice how they answer.
By Christian Trejbal
The Roanoke Times | 981-1645
Trejbal is a Roanoke Times editorial writer.
He is based in the New River Valley.